Royals Rewind: 5/17-5/23

After the dust settled and Trey Hillman had become the first managerial casualty of 2010, the Royals had business to tend to, hitting the road for a pair of two game series before returning home. The Royals won their first series under new manager Ned Yost, so would the good times continue to roll?

5/17Kyle Davies vs. Brad Bergeson
Davies wasn’t at his sharpest, but scattered 7 hits over 6 innings and only walked one on the sparsely-attended, dreary, wet Baltimore night. The Royals manufactured a run in the first and scored again in the second after a balk sent Mitch Maier home from third base.

Yuniesky Betancourt managed to drive in a run from third with less than two outs, hitting a chopper to third with the bases loaded that scored Jose Guillen when Miguel Tejada couldn’t get a grip on the wet ball and only had a play at first. A single by Mike Aviles and double by Billy Butler plated the Royals fourth run of the night in the 7th inning.

It proved to be enough, but there was some drama at the end of the game. Joakim Soria surrendered and uncharacteristic leadoff walk to Garrett Atkins and Cezar Izturis followed with a bunt single to put two on with no outs. After a sacrifice and an intentional walk, the bases were loaded with only one out and Ty Wigginton, Baltimore’s RBI leader, at the plate.

There’s a reason Soria’s one of the best closers in the game, and in the highest pressure situation of the night, he stepped up and calmly blew Wigginton away, striking him out with a fastball. Miguel Tejada grounded out to end the game.

5/28Zack Greinke vs. Kevin Millwood
Millwood was perfect through the first four innings, getting great movement on his pitches. The Royals finally broke though in the fifth inning with a single from Jose Guillen and strung together a bunch of singles to put three runs on the board.

Zack Greinke was equally effective, and if not for Luke Scott, he was nearly unhittable. Through 7 innings, Greinke gave up only four hits and walked only one while striking out six. Unfortunately, two of those hits were homeruns by Scott, who took advantage of a pair of fastballs that didn’t get as far out to the corner as Greinke had wanted.

Blake Wood relieved Greinke in the eighth inning to preserve the lead, but gave up an unexpected homer to Corey Patterson that barely cleared the wall in right field. It was the first run off Wood since his call up from Omaha. Too bad it tied the game.

In the bottom of the tenth, Yost called on Bryan Bullington (there’s an easy case to be made for Joakim Soria there) to get past Orioles. Baltimore got a single and a walk after a groundout to start the inning, then Cesar Izturis reached on an error by Bullington while trying to sacrifice, bringing up Nick Markakis with the bases loaded and only one out. He singled deep to center, a hit that would have scored the winning run even if the outfield had played at normal depth instead of shading way in to cut off a sharply hit ball.

So why not Soria? This is where Yost and Hillman seem to differ – though I’m not sure Hillman would have called on Soria either. But Yost’s reputation tells us that he prefers sharp distinctions in roles for his relievers, meaning Soria pitches the ninth to close it out, and rarely any other time. Hillman, to his credit, learned there are times when it’s okay to bring in your best reliever if the game is on the line. Bullington wasn’t entering a high-leverage situation other than it being extra innings, and not knowing how long into extra innings the game might go (as the Royals had Callaspo/Maier/Betancourt coming up the next inning), Yost may have wanted Bullington in to potentially handle two innings to get the Royals back to the top of their lineup to score a go-ahead run.

At any rate, it was a disappointing end to a strong start by Greinke. Poor guy is cursed.

5/19Gil Meche vs. Justin Masterson
Gil Meche wasn’t terribly sharp, but his high pitch count (122!) was the result of 36 fouled off pitches. Those extra pitches, combined with four walks, left Meche with a short night as he only finished five innings.

The Royals offense continued their usual means of run-scoring, chipping in runs on strings of singles and the occasional double. That is, until the top of the ninth.

Almost exactly a year ago to the date, the Royals rattled off four runs against Cleveland closer Kerry Wood to get a walk off win. And somehow, when Mike Aviles led off the ninth with a triple into the right field corner, the feeling was that the wheel were going to come off again. It was, well, kind of like if the Royals were facing the Royals bullpen in April. Once the first blow was struck, the rest became inevitable.

After an infield single by David DeJesus, Billy Butler drove a double deep to center, driving in Aviles to tie the game. After a Jose Guillen strikeout, the Indians intentionally walked Alberto Callaspo to load the bases. After that, the Royals were on the positive side of a bases loaded walk, after Mitch Maier‘s solid at bat worked a free pass and drove in the go-ahead run. With the bases still loaded, rally killer Yuniesky Betancourt stood at the plate and, to my surprise, unleashed a deep double that cleared the bases. Bruce Chen completed a surgical ninth inning to seal the win.

Very satisfying to get a bullpen blowup in our favor for a change, I must say.

5/20Luke Hochevar vs. Mitch Talbot
By now, we know that Luke Hochevar is one of the more maddening talents on this team. After a disappointing loss against the White Sox where he blew a three run lead in the sixth, Hochevar rebounded well with a complete game on an efficient 107 pitches, even striking out seven on the day. It seems the tough love from Ned Yost worked for one game at least.

Jose Guillen and Alberto Callaspo both went deep and the Royals never really had to worry in this one. Maybe they should play at 11 am more often.

5/21Jason Hammel vs. Brian Bannister
Interleague play came to Kansas City, as the Colorado Rockies trekked across the state of Kansas to face Brian Bannister and the suddenly surging Royals.

Bannister was sharp for most of the game, walking only one and getting a superb 12 ground ball outs. Remember Bannister’s early season issues with the fly ball? They seem to be over. Perhaps the cooler weather of April made his command of the no-seam fastball problematic. At any rate, he’s dramatically reversed that early-season trend and it’s paying off. He’ll never have the stuff to thoroughly dominate a lineup, but he can be a solid back of the rotation starter the rest of the way.

Jose Guillen woke up, hitting two homers (and after his 8th inning homer in Cleveland, he’d homered in three straight at bats). His second homer in the bottom of the seventh opened the flood gates, as the Royals scored three more runs in the inning to run out to a 6-0 lead.

After the four run inning, Bannister went back out for his 8th inning, but gave up a hit and a homerun before getting pulled. It seemed the extended time on the bench took him out of his rhythm so it’s not much to worry about. It just makes a strong performance lose some of its luster.

Interestingly enough, the Royals tacked on three runs in the 8th inning, one the result of a wild pitch that got past former Royal Miguel Olivo, a second scoring on a passed ball by Olivo. Those kinds of issues were what led the Royals to let him go at the end of the 2009 season and opting to sign Jason Kendall to replace him.

5/22Jeff Francis vs. Kyle Davies
The Royals never figured out Jeff Francis, who was strong in his second start since 2008. Kyle Davies pitched well enough to win, though. Davies went six innings, giving up only one run and walked nobody.

Let’s look at that again – Kyle Davies walked none. In six innings. In fact, he’s walked only two batters in his last 17 innings. Has he finally figured it out? Is this the Kyle Davies of September 2008? Or has Ned Yost‘s presence helped him turn the corner? I’ll say this, if Davies has figured something out, he’ll be an asset for future Royals teams. I was WAY wrong on Davies before 2010. Way wrong.

The Royals bats went quiet, but they didn’t help themselves either. Francis walked Willie Bloomquist and David DeJesus, and promptly picked them off. If there are any Rockies fans reading, Francis and Ubaldo might carry you to a division title. They’re THAT good.

5/23Aaron Cook vs. Zack Greinke – We’ll always have 2009
Well. This was unexpected.

There’s some kind of mean streak among the baseball gods if, on a day Zack Greinke starts, the Royals pound out 18 hits and score 7 runs and it just happens to be the day Greinke doesn’t make it out of the fourth inning.

Greinke made it through the first two innings with little incident, and his overall pitch count doesn’t look bad at all. He threw 42 strikes out of 65 pitches. He threw a first pitch strike to 15 of the 19 batters he faced.

Unfortunately, a lot of those were hits.

The Rockies came up aggressively against Zack, and broke through in the 3rd and 4th innings to chase him from the game. Greinke didn’t walk anyone in his 3.1 innings, but he gave up nine hits, including a three run homerun by Jason Giambi. Bryan Bullington relieved Greinke and didn’t fare much better, surrendering three runs on four hits and three walks. Bruce Chen, Brad Thompson and Joakim Soria pitched 3.2 scoreless innings of relief to give KC a shot to get back in it, but it was too steep of a hill to climb.

Greinke’s day could have been better, however. In the third inning, Paul Phillips singled up the middle on a ball that some shortstops may have been able to get to had they not been named Yuniesky Betancourt. After a Dexter Fowler strikeout, Giambi went deep. If Betancourt can get to the grounder, the Fowler strikeout ends the inning with no damage.

In the fourth, Greinke gave up a leadoff single to Troy Tulowitzki who advanced to third after a Seth Smith flyout and a Ryan Spilborghs single. A double and single by Ian Stewart and Clint Barmes scored three runs off Greinke. Paul Phillips came up and hit a tailor made ground ball to Betancourt who basically dropped it. Or maybe he had a sudden lack of depth perception, because he tossed it about a foot in front of him while Mike Aviles waited to make the turn for a double play. Instead, everyone was safe and two more runs scored later in the inning.

It’s not all Betancourt’s fault, but the botched double play ball was a stunning error. Just when the dropped popup started to fade from memory, Betancourt stinks it up again. Like I said, Greinke is cursed. And Yuniesky Betancourt hates him, too, apparently.

The Royals didn’t quit, however, and put up four runs in the bottom of the fifth. Willie Bloomquist, making his second straight start, got impatient and grounded into a double play with the bases loaded to kill the rally. I’ll note that the rally began with a walk to DeJesus and a walk to pinch-hitting Brayan Pena. I wonder how many more runs the Royals would have scored if Bloomquist hadn’t chased the first pitch…

His next at bat, of course, led to his first homerun of the year. Of course.

Remember that Texas bizarro game? This was pretty similar, though less dramatically so. At one point, the Royals had Brayan Pena, Billy Butler and Jose Guillen all on base – probably the three slowest guys you could load the bases with (unless you’re at the Molina family reunion softball game). Willie Bloomquist homered. Zack Greinke didn’t make it out of the fourth inning. Jose Guillen and Alberto Callaspo hit back to back triples, with Guillen’s resulting in the future blooper reel footage of Dexter Fowler losing his glove over the center field wall, then jumping over it to retrieve it.

As for Greinke, I wouldn’t worry. His lack of walks shows me it’s not a total lack of command or control. He gave up three homers this week, but last year, he had a significantly lower homerun rate than his history and league averages would have expected. His 2009 was so exceptional that his current 3.57 ERA and 1.16 WHIP looks like a failed season.

He seems to be getting more of the plate than he wants to, and it does seem that the league is chasing his slider a lot less than last year (which was good for both easy choppers for outs or strikeouts). Similarly, the league seems to be holding off on Joakim Soria‘s slow curve, and he’s thrown it a lot less in two strike situations, too. So it’s all about the league adjusting to these two right now – the good news is, though, that Greinke and Soria are smart pitchers and should be able to adjust to get back ahead.

I hope.

The Numbers
Avg/OBP/Slg/OPS
.317/.376/.460/.837
3 steals in 8 attempts (ewww)
Billy Butler homeruns: 0
Willie Bloomquist homeruns: 1

Team ERA: 3.98
Starters ERA: 3.47
Bullpen ERA: 5.12

Kyle Davies: 12 IP, 2.25 ERA 8/1 K/BB ratio.

Streaking
Alberto Callaspo: 10-26, 5 RBI
Jose Guillen: 10-27, 3 HR, 6 RBI
Billy Butler: 10-28, 5 2B
Yuniesky Betancourt: 9-29, 5 RBI
Mitch Maier: 7-24, 5 RBI

Slumping (relatively)
Mike Aviles: 6-23
Scott Podsednik: 6-24

The Verdict
The last two games against Colorado put a damper on what was a very fun start to the Ned Yost era. What we get to see now is how they handle the adversity of a two game losing streak. The Rangers come into town tomorrow, and we know how that series went earlier.

The bats woke up this week, other than the Jeff Francis game. The Royals aren’t going to suddenly develop power, so the singles parade will have to continue. The difference now is that Yost doesn’t give up outs with sacrifice bunts. This week, the Royals had zero sacrifice bunts. None. Would Hilllman have let the bats swing away in those innings the Royals put up crooked numbers? I’d say likely not.

How did we get to where a 4-3 record feels disappointing? Granted, we should have won the extra innings game against the Orioles, and you wouldn’t have expected an 11-7 Greinke Day loss, but I guess it’s balanced out by the 5-run inning against Kerry Wood and the good luck to not face Ubaldo Jimenez.

What to watch for, though, is how the team continues to roll after the initial “new manager” adrenalin wears off. And can Brayan Pena get some more starts? Please?

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Tags: AL Central Alberto Callaspo Baltimore Orioles Baseball Billy Butler Blake Wood Brian Bannister Bryan Bullington Cleveland Indians Colorado Rockies David DeJesus Dayton Moore Dexter Fowler Gil Meche Jason Kendall Jeff Francis Joakim Soria Kansas City Royals KC Kerry Wood Kevin Millwood Kyle Davies Luke Hochevar Miguel Olivo Mike Aviles Mitch Maier MLB Ned Yost Royals Scott Podsednik Trey Hillman Troy Tulowitzki Willie Bloomquist Yuniesky Betancourt Zack Greinke

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