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May 1, 2013

Judging the Royals: Looking for off-speed stuff

After Wednesday's 8-2 win over Tampa Bay, Jeff Francoeur said that Rays starter Alex Cobb started to get the ball up late in the game. Francoeur added that the Royals' hitters started to look off-speed, and it paid off.

In the bottom of the sixth inning the Tampa Bay Rays were up 2-0 and had two outs. Rays starter Alex Cobb had given up four singles, struck out five, got two outs on fly balls, 10 outs on groundballs and seemed in complete control. But then Eric Hosmer doubled on a 79-mph curveball, Lorenzo Cain singled on an 80-mph curveball, Mike Moustakas homered on an 86-mph change-up, Jeff Francoeur doubled on an 86-mph change-up, Salvador Perez singled on an 85-mph change-up and Elliot Johnson ended Alex Cobb’s night when he singled on an 86-mph change-up.

Picking up the pattern?

After the game Jeff Francoeur said the Royals were in their third at-bat and had seen all of Cobb’s pitches. He also said Cobb started to get the ball up. The third thing Frenchy said was the Royals hitters started to look off-speed and it paid off.

Francoeur said hitters have to eliminate pitches: try to hit everything a guy has and you may hit nothing at all. It’s almost impossible to handle fast, slow, in, out, up, down, straight and moving pitches all at once. Eliminate some of what a pitcher does, let it go by and look for your pitch. In this case it was the off-speed stuff they started looking for and when they got it, they didn’t miss.

Game notes

First inning: At times James Shields has struggled in the first inning and this was one of those times: he fell behind to Matt Joyce and gave up a two-run home run. But then James did what good pitchers do—he limited the damage. After the Joyce homer Shields gave up nothing for the next six and two thirds.

Good pitchers also stop losing streaks and even though two games isn’t much of a losing streak, last season two losses could stretch into more. So far this pitching staff has kept that from happening.

Sixth inning: After Eric Hosmer doubled Rays catcher Jose Molina stepped out in front of the plate and made a downward motion with both hands. Catchers will do this to remind the infielders that they need to knock the ball down, even if they have no play at first. With a runner on second, keeping the ball on the infield might save a run.

Mike Moustakas homered later in the inning, but he’d already hit the ball on the screws two times: a single and a 4-3. After the game Moose said he’s starting to feel better and some of it’s mechanical (getting into a good, balanced hitting position) and some of it’s better pitch selection.

Seventh inning: If you want to know how Ned Yost thinks Moustakas is swinging the bat, here’s your answer: with the bases loaded and the count 3-0, Ned gave Moose the green light. Yost thought Mike is swinging the bat so well, he’d have a chance to put up four runs in a hurry—and Ned wasn’t far wrong. Mike hit the ball to the warning track and drove in Alcides Escobar with a sacrifice fly.

In his post-game press conference Yost said it’s important to the Royals to get Moustakas right; Mike’s got the kind of bat that can carry a team for a while. And the only way to get Mike right is to get him at-bats against major league pitching. Yost also said the worst thing you can do to a young player is panic and give up on him. Ned stuck with Alcides Escobar when he was struggling and it looks like he’ll do the same with Moustakas—and Ned doesn’t think Mike is struggling any more.

Eighth inning: Elliot Johnson led off with a walk, advanced to second on an Alex Gordon infield single and then advanced to third on an Alcides Escobar fly ball out. Advancing to third was the key play in the inning because it allowed Elliot to score on Billy Butler’s shallow sac fly. The rest of the team gave Elliot high fives, Billy gave him a hug—Johnson’s base running saved Butler an at-bat and got him an rbi at the same time.

Ninth inning: Sunday night the Royals played badly, threw the ball all over the field and made bad decisions. Just to prove it can happen to anybody, the Rays did pretty much the same thing Tuesday night. A fly ball dropped probably through miscommunication, their catcher threw the ball into centerfield—letting a run score—and Yunel Escobar made a bad base-running decision in the ninth.

Down by six, Escobar tried to stretch a single into a double and got thrown out by Alex Gordon. The best you can say is it wasn’t a smart play, but you hope it wasn’t something worse: a selfish play. If a guy thinks, "Hey, I can get a double" when his team needs him to go station-to-station, that’s thinking about your numbers and not what your team needs.

Monday night’s managing

So you’re sitting in the stadium Monday night and Wade Davis isn’t pitching well. To make matters worse, Ned Yost isn’t doing anything about it. Wade has already given up two runs, goes into the fourth inning and gives up a double, a walk, a double, a single, a double and a home run. Why didn’t Ned Yost pull him sooner?

He was out of middle relievers.

Let’s back up and go through what led to Monday night’s situation: theRoyals got rained out on Friday night so all the relievers got a day of rest. A lot of relievers pitch two days in a row and then get a day off. Some guys will get a day off if they pitch multiple innings in one game. Bear that in mind as we go along.

On Saturday Ervin Santana throws seven innings, Kelvin Herrera throws one and Greg Holland throws one. Everybody in the pen is available the next day.

Sunday afternoon Jeremy Guthrie throws six and two thirds, Tim Collins throws a third of an inning and Luke Hochevar throws two. Hochevar should not be available until Tuesday.

Sunday night Will Smith only throws four, Bruce Chen throws three and J.C. Gutierrez throws two. Now Hochevar, Chen and Gutierrerz should have Monday off.

Going into Monday’s game Ned Yost hoped for a minimum of six innings from Wade Davis. That would get the Royals to the back end of the pen where they could use Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Kelvin Herrera or possibly Greg Holland without abusing any of them. Holland probably wouldn’t be used unless it was a save situation, so six innings from Davis would allow Ned to use the other three—Crow, Collins and Herrera for one inning each.

Managers really don’t want to waste good relief pitching in a loss; you might use up someone you need the next night in a win—so Ned was trying to get through six with Wade. Davis was already losing, Ned’s trying to save the pen and Wade gives up a homer to Ryan Raburn to go down by eight. At some point you have to worry about the psyche of the guy out on the mound taking a beating, so Ned did what he told me he really didn’t want to do: use Luke Hochevar on short rest. Hoch came through, pitched an inning and a third and got the ball to the backend of the pen.

Ned told me he understands the frustration of fans who pay good money to see a game and then the starter gets lit up and the manager doesn’t do anything about it, but Ned’s paid to worry about 162 games. What he does in game 23 can affect game 24, 25 and 26. Wasting good relief pitching on a game that the Royals are unlikely to win isn’t good managing.

Sometimes you just have to take your beating and move on to the next one.


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