Coming into this game, Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie had a string of 18 starts without a loss — that string got snapped by four home runs. Albert Pujols, Howie Kendrick, Josh Hamilton and Mike Trout all took him deep. Guthrie also walked three, struck out none and gave up five earned runs — not a great night.
But Guthrie did throw seven innings.
When a starting pitcher does not have his best stuff — but hangs in there and finds a way to give his team innings—he may not help his team win that night, but he gives his team a better shot at winning the next night. Starting pitchers who go deep, rest the bullpen. What Guthrie did Tuesday night—and Luke Hochevar did on Monday—was allow Ned Yost to get through two games without chewing up his bullpen. Wednesday night Ned should have all his relievers available.
Wade Davis is pitching for the Royals, Barry Enright is on the mound for the Angels. Enright is 0-1 with an ERA of 11.37 and has only thrown six and a third innings this season. Davis has had seven starts and in four of them his ERA has been 11.42 (assuming I calculated it right) and in three of them his ERA was 0.50. If the good Wade Davis shows up and Ned Yost has a fully-rested pen, the Royals have a decent chance of winning this series.
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First inning: With Mike Trout on first base, Jeremy Guthrie got Albert Pujols to hit a weak pop up in the vicinity of second base: and that’s when things got weird. Trout was running on the pitch because the count was 3-2 and Angels manager Mike Scioscia wanted to stay out of a double play. Eric Hosmer raced all the way over from first base to catch the ball, but gave way to Miguel Tejada. Miggy had the ball and Mike Trout was way off first, but so was Hosmer. Guthrie was on his way to the bag, but ran past it. It looked like Guthrie assumed Tejada was going to just run back to the bag and tag it before Trout could get there, and it looked like Tejada assumed Guthrie was going to turn to take a throw.
You know what they say about assuming: you make an ass of you and Miggy.
Nobody covered the bag and Trout got back safely. I’d say Guthrie got out of the inning with no further damage, but he shattered Mark Trumbo’s bat and was struck by a piece of wood.
Third inning: Jeff Francoeur struck out on an 81-mph change-up and Jason Vargas showed what separation of speeds can do; Vargas was throwing his fastball—for the most part—in the high 80s, which is not hard by big league standards. But gear up for 88, guess wrong, get 81 and you’ll take a bad-looking hack. The Royals struck out seven times.
In the bottom of the third things got weird once more. Chris Iannetta walked and Scioscia had J.B. Shuck bunt. The ball rolled down the third base line while Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez watched. Unfortunately, Jeremy Guthrie was watching also—he should have been covering third. On the other hand, maybe it was brilliant decoy: Iannetta, who had advanced to second, saw the open bag and took off for third base. Moose and Salvy recovered in time; Mike covered the bag, Sal flipped him the ball and Mike applied the tag. Jeremy Guthrie is a very bright guy, but I also saw him fail to back up home in spring training. In the seventh inning there was once again some miscommunication between Guthrie and Hosmer about who was covering first. This is the kind of stuff that ought to get cleaned up before it costs the Royals a ballgame.
If it makes anyone feel better the Angels had two hits and a walk in the inning and never got a runner as far as third base. Perez threw out Shuck when he tried to advance on a pitch that got away. The inning ended on a play by Alcides Escobar, once again aided by good footwork by first baseman Eric Hosmer. Hos is 6’ 4" and the other infielders love throwing to a target that big and mobile.
Fourth inning: Billy Butler hit an RBI double on a fastball up and in, keeping the ball fair, just inside the left-field line. I can’t begin to describe how technically difficult it is to keep a pitch in that location fair. The tendency is to hit the outside half and hook the ball foul. Hits like this one are what make other players shake their heads when they watch Billy hit. Billy also homered and lined out. He’s seven for his last nine and one of the outs was hit deep in the gap.
Sixth inning: That home run came when Butler got a 2-1 fastball and didn’t miss it—four pitches later Eric Hosmer got a 2-1 fastball and did. Hitters say you almost always get at least one pitch to hit during an at-bat—but you can’t miss it. Take it, swing and miss or foul it off—which is what Hosmer did—and you’re still up there, waiting for a big league pitcher to make a second mistake. After Hosmer missed his fastball, Vargas was ahead in the count and could start throwing his curve. Eric never got another fastball and ended up grounding out weakly.
Eighth inning: Lorenzo Cain led off the inning and walked. Alcides Escobar popped out to second base and with Alex Gordon at the plate, Cain stole second. The Royals were down by three runs at that point and they had Alex Gordon and Billy Butler due up. Gordon took a pitch while Cain was stealing. Some baseball people might tell you Cain’s steal was a bad idea: the Royals needed three runs and the heart of their order was getting their last shot at winning the game. Some people think you don’t want those 3-4-5 guys taking pitches to allow a base runner to steal; if they get a pitch to hit, those guys need to do damage. Plus, you’re risking one of the five outs you have left to move a meaningless run into scoring position.
Ninth inning: Down by three runs Eric Hosmer came to the plate to start the inning and hacked at the first pitch he saw, a sinker from Scott Downs. There are veteran ballplayers who will tell you that’s a mistake: unless you’re the tying or winning run, your job is to get on base. You can’t hit a three-run home run with nobody on. Coming into the at-bat Hosmer had faced Downs four times and struck out twice, so it wasn’t even a pitcher Eric’s hit well. Hosmer missed the first sinker, swung and missed the second sinker and allowed Downs to get ahead in the count. That allowed Downs to use his curveball and Eric wound up hitting a routine grounder to second for the first out.
Salvador Perez came up next and took a better approach, taking pitches until he was 3-0 and that forced Downs to keep throwing his sinker—no curves—and move that sinker up in the zone to avoid walking Sal. Perez got a pitch up and singled, but Mike Moustakas grounded out and Jeff Francoeur out to end the game.