Royals Rewind: 5/3-5/9 - U G L Y

After some (mostly) strong pitching at Tampa Bay, the Royals moved on to Chicago and Texas, spending all week on the road while shifting the makeup of the major league roster. Some of the bats that propelled Kansas City atop the majors in batting average cooled off as Jose Guillen, Yuniesky Betancourt, Jason Kendall and Scott Podsednik either slumped severely or witnessed a sharp decline in productivity.

5/3: Gil Meche vs. Jake Peavy – Time for a Rebound
Both Meche and Peavy had struggled coming into the game and the hope was that Meche would settle in and turn his 2010 around. To his credit, he wasn’t as bad as he’d been in other starts so far, but it took 96 pitches to get through five innings, but he still walked three and gave up nine hits.

The White Sox didn’t need much, though. Peavy showed the form that made him a National League Cy Young Award winner, mowing down the Royals with efficiency. He threw seven innings and only got to a three-ball count three times. The Royals helped him out, showing their trademark impatience, but Peavy pounded the strike zone – he faced 25 batters and only 9 of those got to a 2-0, 2-1, or 2-2 count.

5/4: Luke Hochevar vs. Gavin Floyd
Prior to the game, the Royals placed Rick Ankiel on the disabled list moments before the first pitch. Shortly after it was announced that Kila Ka’aihue would come up from Omaha to fill his spot on the roster, much to the delight of many in the Royals online community.

Mike Aviles got his first start of the year since moving up and went 3-5 with a homerun. He looked comfortable at the plate, going with the pitch for a single to right his first time up.

This one could have been a lot better or a lot worse. The Royals opened the game with runners on first and third with no outs. They got a run in on a double play, but only the one run. In the second, starting with a Jason Kendall walk, the Royals got each of their 6th through 9th batters on base, getting a run home, leaving the bases loaded with no outs for the top of the order.

Who promptly made three straight outs.

Again in the third, the Royals loaded the bases with no outs, but an excellent play by Paul Konerko retired Aviles on a grounder where he stepped on first, then threw out Jose Guillen at home. Mitch Maier flew out and the Royals had squandered the opportunity.

By contrast, in the bottom of the third, the White Sox scored a run without getting the ball out of the infield. Juan Pierre reached on a bunt single that the Royals were inexplicably playing back in the infield against, then he stole second, followed that by stealing third and advanced to score when Jason Kendall threw the ball past Alberto Callaspo.

After that both pitchers settled in until the top of the 7th when the Royals put up four runs, batting around. Chris Getz led off with a single, stole second and moved to third on a grounder to second by David DeJesus. Scott Podsednik tripled then scored when Billy Butler singled past the drawn in infield. Jose Guillen crushed his eighth homerun of the year to give the Royals a cushion.

Luke Hochevar was effective but not sharp, going six innings and only giving up one unearned run, but he walked four and only threw 48 of his 92 pitches for strikes, which he won’t be able to do too often if he wants to stay successful.

5/5: Brian Bannister vs. Freddy Garcia
Brian Bannister showed poor command and left a few pitches up and the White Sox made him pay. He didn’t help himself much either by walking four batters. He came out for the fourth inning and only threw one warmup pitch after running into the clubhouse to warm his hands – we learned later that this was due to being unable to get a good grip on the ball (possibly leading to the poor command all night). After starting the inning, he walked a batter, gave up a single and walked another to load the bases. Trey Hillman pulled him for Bruce Chen, who, just like vs. Seattle weeks ago, walked in a run (which he promised he wouldn’t let happen again…tsk tsk Bruce).

Freddy Garcia handled the Royals easily, keeping them off balance with offspeed pitches all night – the Royals got some hits off of him, but he never walked anyone, letting the Royals put the ball in play. (And how many times do we see that from the Royals, where they let a soft tosser shut them down entirely?)

5/6: Kyle Davies vs. Matt Harrison – Wild West Texas Shootout
Welcome to Bizarro World.
The bright side: After going down 8-0, the Royals didn’t give up, scoring in five straight turns at bat.

Still, this was about as wild a game as I’ve seen. If you’d have told me any of the following would happen, I’d have thought you were crazy:

Trey Hillman inspired some minor controversy in pulling Robinson Tejeda in the bottom of the eighth with nobody on and two outs to go with Soria.  I have no problem with Trey going to Soria there.  As I’ve stated before, Trey Hillman should use Soria more often when the game is on the line, and not just in the ninth inning. I see why he would go with Soria here. I just don’t know why in this situation he chose to do so.

Tejeda’s had his problems, no doubt. But Thursday night, he’d retired five batters on 14 pitches – a dominant appearance similar to his relief effort at Toronto when he threw eight strikes in eight pitches. The Royals were protecting a lead, but with the way Tejeda was pitching, I’d assume he’d have been able to retire the last batter. So the issue is more why pull Tejeda in that spot, not why bring in Soria.

Maybe it’s just as likely that Tejeda gives up back to back homers. Maybe he walks Hamilton and Vlad Guerrero stills goes deep. We don’t know, but it was a curious move. In regards to Soria, though, well that’s just a bad break. He’s never given up back to back homers in his major league career so I wouldn’t be concerned at all.

Other good things, though – Billy Butler hit a homerun, as did Alberto Callaspo (showing his 2009 power wasn’t a fluke). Kila Ka’aihue came in and got a pinch hit RBI single to put the Royals ahead.

Some other observations in this game (as there were many at bats to go through): every batter who walked scored on both sides, as they combined for 25 runs on 26 hits. Two moments in the fifth inning were significant. Scott Podsednik singled, driving in Mitch Maier. Willie Bloomquist struck out to bring up Billy Butler. Podsednik stole second base. This usually wouldn’t be a huge deal, but the night before, Billy Butler had grounded into a double play in the same situation of Podsednik on first and one out. This time, the Royals sent Podsednik to take out the double play. Since Butler leads the league in GIDP, that’s a smart move and one they may continue to go with, or they may mix in the hit and run to take advantage of Butler’s bat control.

The other small moment came after Podsednik had stolen second and third base. Jose Guillen came up with two outs and hit a wide grounder that forced Ian Kinsler to dive at on the outfield grass. He barely got to it, scrambled to his feet and threw Guillen out. If anyone else is running to first, he’s safe and the run scores. It was a good play by Kinsler, but maybe a two run cushion keeps Tejeda in the game.

After the game, I would usually have been upset, but it was just so weird…so weird. That’s baseball.

5/7: Zack Greinke vs. C.J. Wilson
Had I told you before the game that one of these starters would throw a one-run complete game, you’d have to assume that’s a good thing for Kansas City. Unfortunately, the travesty that is Zack Greinke‘s 2010 season continued, as the Royals mustered only one run against the converted closer.

Greinke wasn’t as sharp as his 87 pitch complete game at Tampa, but he wasn’t shaky either. He only walked one in seven innings, though he did give up nine hits, one of those a long homerun by Vlad Guerrero on a curveball that Zack himself called a stupid pitch. Greinke only put up three strikeouts, so he may have been getting more of the plate than usual or been just a bit off in his command but still three earned runs isn’t bad for anybody.

Back to that curveball, though. Greinke’s surrendered five homers all year and they’ve all been on curveballs, three of those on the first pitch. Evan Longoria‘s last week was the third curve he’d seen in the at-bat. Zack likes to use his slow curve as an alternative to a fastball to get a first-pitch strike, and it could be solid advance scouting looking for him to try that, or it could just be he’s showing a bit too much and tipping the batter off. At any rate, I don’t think it’s something to worry about but it’s interesting that it’s only been the curve that’s left the yard.

Another issue that you may have noticed in this game was Yuniesky Betancourt‘s ….relaxed method of catching popups. He dropped one in the bottom of the second that would have ended the inning, but instead let a run score. Just inexcusable defense. I get that that’s how he’s used to field such a play, but it’s more chinks in Yuni’s armor.

Nonetheless, the Royals only scored one run while making Wilson look like a Cy Young candidate. It continues for Greinke – one of these days the Royals will give him more than four runs, right?

5/8:Gil Meche vs. Rich Harden
Kila Ka’aihue got his first start at first base batting cleanup – welcome to the Show!
Gil Meche struggled early but settled down in the middle innings, though his control was still off as he walked seven in eight innings.

It’s encouraging that Meche went eight innings. After a few outings where he didn’t see the fifth, he’s perhaps making progress. In the first, Meche gave up a run on a walk, a steal and two groundouts. In the second, he gave up a run on a walk, a steal and a single. Two runs, one hit. But he cruised after that, only walking one more – until the eighth inning.

Through seven, Meche had thrown 104 pitches which isn’t overwhelming, but it is a lot when he’s still not right from shoulder issues last season. I can even see why Hillman would want to give him a shot to get quick outs in his last inning. But at the start of the inning, there was nobody in the Royals bullpen getting loose. Meche walked the first batter – and stayed in. He caught a break when a pitchout came at the right time and nailed Elvis Andrus at second, but he walked Michael Young right after. And stayed in. A Josh Hamilton infield single and a flyout moved Young to third and he scored on an Ian Kinsler flare to right field.

Every run the Rangers scored got on base via the walk.

Another curious issue was Hillman’s use of the bench and defense. Ka’aihue started at first over Billy Butler who was DHing. In the top of the seventh, lefty Darren Oliver came in and Hillman pinch hit Jose Guillen for Kila to get a platoon advantage. This wouldn’t be an issue except that it meant that the slow, defensively-challenged Guillen would take over right field for David DeJesus who shifted to left. I wonder if on Kinsler’s single to right field if DeJesus would have had a play on the ball.

Oh, and the Royals got one hit with runners in scoring position, making outs the other 12 times.

Most damning, though, was Hillman’s use of Meche. All those walks add up to wasted pitches, and Meche ended up throwing 128 of them, his third-highest total ever. Last year after a 132 pitch outing, Meche surrendered 13 earned runs in 8.1 innings over two starts. Watch his next few starts…they may not be pretty.

5/9:Luke Hochevar vs. Scott Feldman
After the game, we learned that Hochevar may have had the flu, which explains his early exit, as he didn’t make it out of the third inning for the second time in three starts. He wasn’t sharp after the first two innings, though and walked four in his 2.2 innings. He put himself into a jam after a single and two walks before getting an out. A fielder’s choice scored a run but at least set up a double play.

Then something weird happened.

Vlad Guerrero hit a fly to Scott Podsednik at left and Elvis Andrus tagged up to head home. The throw got away from Jason Kendall and Josh Hamilton moved up to second. Nobody on the field for the Royals notice that Hamilton hadn’t tagged up at first though, so he advanced illegally. Nobody noticed on the bench either. From Trey Hillman to Kevin Seitzer to Dave Owen to Eddy Rodriguez to John Gibbons to Bob McClure – nobody noticed that they just had to appeal at first and the inning would have ended with only one run scoring. That’s significant when Ian Kinsler was hit by a pitch and he and Hamilton stole second and third respectively. They both scored on a David Murphy double and Hochevar was done.

Mike Aviles went 3-4, belting his second homer of the season. If the Royals are going to go to such drastic measures as to choose Chris Getz over Alex Gordon, then Mike Aviles needs to start everyday over Betancourt. He’s hitting, and heck, he catches popups.

Robinson Tejeda seems to be finding his groove after a rough start, as he went 3.1 innings walking none and giving up no walks. But when the dust settled, it didn’t matter as the Royals were swept in the four game series and won only one game the whole week.

Ugh.

The Verdict
Well. Walks are killers and the Royals are aiding and abetting with frustrating regularity.

This was an ugly week, what with Betancourt’s futility with runners in scoring position and his awful error on Saturday. The starting pitching was inconsistent other than Greinke’s solid outing and innings three through seven for Meche. Sure the Royals scored more runs than last week, but most of that was the one crazy game on Thursday. They scored 29 runs in 7 games for just better than four runs per game. Without the 13-12 loss, they didn’t even average three runs a game.

It seems like this team is better than the 11-21 record would indicate – there has been some bad luck here and there. But there’s a level of execution that’s lacking and that falls on the manager. The pitchers can’t throw strikes if their name isn’t Zack or Joakim, so that falls on Bob McClure. Now I’m not calling for anyone’s head, but something has to change at some point either on the field or in the clubhouse. This time last year, there was hope of riding Greinke to the playoffs. A year later and we’re racing Baltimore and Houston for the worst record in the league.

I’ll say that if nothing else, Mitch Maier is showing he can handle an everyday role as he fills in for Rick Ankiel. He has a lot less power potential, but he can draw walks and this week went 4-8 with runners in scoring position. He also made a few nice plays in centerfield. Also Alberto Callaspo looks exponentially more comfortable at third base than he ever did at second. He did commit an error, but he also did exactly what he should at third – make the easy plays, something he struggled with at second base.

The Numbers
Hitting: Avg/OBP/SLG/OPS
.279/.326/.432/.758
6 stolen bases in 8 attempts
15-58 with runners in scoring position (.258)
Mitch Maier with RISP 4-8
Yuniesky Betancourt with RISP 1-5

Slumping
DeJesus 5-24
Guillen 4-24

Surging
Butler 10-26
Callaspo 9-30
Aviles 10-23, 2 HR
Maier 6-21, 4 RBI

Team ERA: 6.79
Starters ERA: 7.82
Bullpen ERA: 4.05

Just can’t get anything to matchup although:
Robinson Tejeda this week: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 5 K 0 BB
and since 4/28: 11 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 10 K, 2 BB

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Tags: AL Central Alberto Callaspo Alex Gordon Andruw Jones Baseball Billy Butler Brian Bannister C.J. Wilson Chicago White Sox Chris Getz David DeJesus David Murphy Dayton Moore Elvis Andrus Freddy Garcia Gil Meche Ian Kinsler Jake Peavy Jason Kendall Joakim Soria Jose Guillen Josh Hamilton Juan Pierre Kansas City Royals KC Kila Kaaihue Kyle Davies Kyle Farnsworth Luke Hochevar Mike Aviles Mitch Maier MLB Neftali Feliz Paul Konerko Rick Ankiel Robinson Tejeda Royals Scott Podsednik Texas Rangers Trey Hillman Vlad Guerrero Willie Bloomquist Yuniesky Betancourt Zack Greinke

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