Veteran ballplayers, sports psychologists and beer vendors who pay attention will tell you there are certain common danger points for starting pitchers: the first inning (they haven’t settled in yet), the fifth inning (pitchers need five complete innings for a win and when they’re on the verge of qualify for a win, it gets to some of them), after two outs (they relax and lose focus) and the third time through the order.
In this case, the Minnesota Twins got to Luis Mendoza the third time through the order.
Everybody knows what a pitcher has before he ever takes the mound; they’ve seen video and scouting reports. But nobody—including the pitcher—knows exactly what he has that night until he throws it. Everyone wants to see the movement on his fastball, how good his off-speed stuff is and whether he can throw it for strikes. By the time a team is going through the order for the third time, they’ve got a pretty good idea of what the pitcher has that evening. If what a pitcher has is overwhelming, it may not help—but often hitters see what adjustment needs to be made and the pitcher has nothing new to show them.
At the start of the fifth inning Luis Mendoza had thrown 81 pitches, used everything he had—fastball, slider, curveball, change—and was about to face the top of the Twins lineup for the third time. Jamey Carroll flew out to centerfield on a 0-1 fastball, Joe Mauer doubled on a 0-0 fastball, Josh Willingham spit on a 1-0 slider and singled on a 2-0 fastball, Justin Morneau ignored a changeup in the dirt and hit a 2-0 fastball and Ryan Doumit saw five fastballs and lined the fifth one into centerfield.
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Third time through the order and the Twins had seen everything Luis had to offer. They didn’t chase the off-speed pitches they saw, got fastballs up in the zone and by the time Mendoza came out of the game, the score was 3-0. Going into this game when the Royals score three runs or less they were 8-26.
Make that 8-27—the Twins beat the Royals 3-0.
First inning: The Twins outfield plays deeper than Royals outfield (count the patterns in the grass and you’ll see what I mean). I’ve heard left fielder Josh Willingham plays deep because he does not go back well and he’d rather come forward on the ball. Centerfielder Aaron Hicks is supposed to be a better athlete with better range and right fielder Chris Parmelee also sets up a bit deeper than the Royals right fielders. When outfielders play deep, base runners might be able to advance an extra base before the outfielders get to the ball. With a total of four hits, the Royals were unable to test this theory.
Second inning: Luis Mendoza started it with a leadoff walk, just like he did the first inning. When you walk Jamey Carroll (.235) or Ryan Doumit (.229) or Chris Parmelee (.233); you’re asking for trouble. Even if they don’t score—and none of them did—it gets your pitch count up and allows everyone to see more pitches. After going 2-0 on Brian Dozier, pitching coach, Dave Eiland came to the mound. If you want to make a quick $20 bucks, bet the person next to you that the next pitch after a mound visit will be a fastball. If a pitcher’s missing the strike zone the message is usually throw strikes. If the pitcher has enough guts to throw a slider after a mound visit, you’re going to lose your $20. (Mendoza threw Dozier a 93-MPH fastball—your money would have been safe.)
Fourth inning: Ryan Doumit saw 10 pitches and hit the tenth one—a slider up in the zone—405 feet. (OK, so maybe there is a reason to walk a guy hitting .229.) Immediately afterwards Chris Parmelee hit a flare down the left field line and made the mistake of watching it for a half a beat. Alex Gordon ran a great route, fielded the ball headed toward second base and threw Parmelee out on a bang-bang play. At least that’s how the umpire saw it. A few weeks ago I asked bullpen coach Doug Henry—those guys in the leftfield pen have a great view—how many doubles he thought Alex had turned into singles and he guessed seven or eight. I’ve seen him do it several times since that conversation and two more times Tuesday night.
I also asked Doug if there was a better left fielder than Gordon in the American League and he said if there was, he hasn’t seen him.
In the bottom of the fourth Billy Butler doubled and, with nobody out, Lorenzo Cain needed to move him to third. It appeared Cain tried, but couldn’t get it done and wound up striking out. That might have cost the Royals a run when Mike Moustakas flew out to centerfield. I wouldn’t bet my house on it, but Billy might have tagged up and scored had he been on third.
Fifth inning: Elliot Johnson walked and got doubled off first base on Alex Gordon’s line out to second. I don’t know what they’re teaching these days, but the Royals used to teach retreating to your original base on line drives—not just freezing. If that meant you could only advance one base, so be it—better than being doubled off. Elliot took a couple steps the wrong way and was dead meat.
Sixth inning: The Royals were getting their third trip through the order. Alcides Escobar saw a curve, a fastball and a curve (he lined out to center), Eric Hosmer saw a changeup, a changeup, a changeup, a curve and a fastball (he struck out) and Billy Butler saw a curve, a changeup, a cutter, a changeup, a curve and a curve (he also struck out). I’m sure there’s more here than meets the eye (there always is), but it looks like the other guys were getting fastballs the third time through the order and the Royals were getting the kitchen sink thrown at them.
Seventh inning: Cain doubled and Mike Moustakas moved him to third with a line out to right. The Twins left their infield back which meant they were conceding the run if Salvador Perez hit a groundball up the middle—but he didn’t. A shallow fly ball to center was not enough to get Lorenzo home. (Pay attention to these situational at-bats—that’s where the Royals are losing some of these games.)
Eighth inning: Once again the Royals let another team get to the back end of their pen. Coming into Tuesday’s game the Royals were 5-22 when trailing after six innings, 6-23 when trailing after seven and 2-29 when trailing after eight. Because the Royals did not have a lead after seven, the Twins brought in Jared Burton to pitch the eighth (2.08 ERA) and Glen Perkins (3.08 ERA and 11 saves—now 12) to pitch the ninth. Grab a lead somewhere and maybe you keep those guys in the bullpen.
This week represents another opportunity for Kansas City—a series against the Twins and another against the Astros. A 3-0 loss was not a good start.