Royals Rewind: 5/31-6/6

The Royals started strong but fizzled out in their brief four-game series at Fenway Park, taking the first two games easily, but scoring only one run in the remaining two.  Would the Boston hangover hit Kansas City again, sending them spiraling towards a prolonged losing streak like in years past?  Would the Royals bats wake up after being put to sleep by Clay Bucholz and Jon Lester?

Well let’s just go take a look-see, eh?

5/31: Ervin Santana vs. Luke Hochevar
The Royals faced their third strong pitcher in as many games, and again did very little. Santana struck out six while walking none, destroying the Royals with a wicked slider all game.

David DeJesus got two hits and Alberto Callaspo went 3-4 with two doubles, but the Royals only managed one run on eight hits. As a team, they were 1-8 with runners in scoring position.

Luke Hochevar was sharp in some ways, shaky in others. He gave up two homeruns in seven innings, one to Juan Rivera (not too surprising) and one to Maicer Izturis (quite surprising). Other than the two homers, Hochevar gave up seven hits, and the Angels were fortunate to get some extra runs chipped in by Howie Kendrick who drove in Mike Napoli twice.

6/1: Joel Pineiro vs. Brian Bannister
Joel Pineiro probably would have won this game nine out of ten times. He went 8 innings on 98 pitches and walked none. And lost. You’d almost think he was Zack Greinke. The Royals put together a four-run fifth inning which turned out to be the difference.

Yuniesky Betancourt led off with a triple and came home on a Chris Getz single. After a Scott Podsednik single and Jason Kendall popout, David DeJesus drove the ball past a shallow Torii Hunter in center for a triple, then scored on a sacrifice fly by Billy Butler. For some reason, the Angels were playing very shallow all game, otherwise Hunter probably could have made a play on DeJesus’s triple and the rest of the rally may have died out.

Brian Bannister wasn’t bad, but gave up a few scratch hits that led to a couple of runs. He ran into trouble in the top of the sixth, giving up a homerun (Maicer Izturis strikes again!) and left the game after Torii Hunter singled and a Hideki Matsui drive came an inch from tying the game. Instead of going into the stands, he doubled off the top of the railing in right field.

With one out in the sixth, Robinson Tejeda came in and induced a popup and struck out Mike Napoli to kill the rally. I applaud the move, as Tejeda is settling into a role much like an old-school fireman. He’s been electric for the past few weeks, and Ned Yost was smart to go with the hot hand. Tejeda’s ability to get strikeouts was ideal in that situation, to prevent the ball from getting into play.

The bullpen combined for 3.2 innings, striking out five and walking none in protecting the lead. The Tejeda/Wood/Soria combo was on full display.

6/2: Scott Kazmir vs. Kyle Davies
Kyle Davies struggled and the Royals bats went into hiding again. They managed to work some walks against Scott Kazmir, but really never got anything going. They made contact and hit the ball hard, but managed to find a glove most of the time and were limited to just two runs on seven hits.

Davies didn’t help his cause, getting chased from the game after a walk and single in the fifth inning. He walked two but struck out none, so he was roughed up pretty soundly, missing spots and the Angels were more than happy to smack the ball around the field.

Victor Marte and Brad Thompson put up five innings in mopup duty, giving up only one run total, so there’s that, but there weren’t a lot of positives to come out of this one. The Royals even messed up a couple of double play opportunities, which didn’t help Davies out at all.

6/3: Jered Weaver vs. Zack Greinke
Greinke gave up ten hits and walked three in taking the loss. It might be time to start showing him tapes from last season, perhaps starting with his game in May against the White Sox and his one-hit shutout of Seattle. Give him a reminder of who he is. He’s simply not pitching with confidence right now.

Greinke gave up a homer to Torii Hunter which was the 9th off Greinke on the year. After a sub-5% homerun per flyball rate in 2009, some regression to the norm of 10% was expected, and Greinke’s 8.5% HR/FB is in a normal range. The problem is he’s getting hit with more regularity than last year, which I think is his trying to be too fine and not just throwing the ball. He’s hit 98 or 99 on his fastball a couple of times and can dial it up to 97 pretty regularly, but he’s been sitting in the 92-93 range most of the time and it feels like he doesn’t have command of it like he wants to. He’s still good, but he’s not the maestro he was last season.

Weaver went seven dominant innings, walking one but only giving up four hits while striking out nine. The Royals didn’t get anything going until they got two runs off Kevin Jepsen in the 8th, knocking him out after only one out. Unfortunately, Billy Butler again grounded into a double play, squandering the rally. The Royals roughed up Angels closer Brian Fuentes in the bottom of the ninth, with Jose Guillen drawing a walk and, of all people, Willie Bloomquist hitting a pinch-hit homerun to left. Mike Aviles walked, but Scott Podsednik struck out looking to strand the tying run at first.

Bloomquist’s blast could have been the tying run had it not been for a fielding mistake in the top of the 6th. With one out in the the inning, the Angels had worked the bases loaded when Howie Kendrick hit a chopper to Alberto Callaspo at third. He stepped on the bag and threw home where Kevin Frandsen was fifteen feet from the plate. Jason Kendall, thinking Callaspo had come home for the force, didn’t place a tag on Frandsen, allowing him to score. That run turned out to be the difference in the game.

Also featured in this game was home plate umpire Mike Estabrook, who jawed with Angels manager Mike Scioscia in the first inning, then tried to show up Jason Kendall when he questioned a call on a close Greinke pitch to Torii Hunter. Estabrook’s attempt at an impromptu lecture, stepping into the batter’s box to discuss the pitch with the crouched Kendall, drew the ire of Ned Yost, who earned his first ejection by defending his catcher.

6/4: Max Scherzer vs. Bruce Chen
Every starter got a hit for Chen, who went five innings this time in his second start in place of Gil Meche. Other than a meatball to Brennan Boesch by Kyle Farnsworth, the bullpen was solid in preserving the lead.

The Royals had 13 hits, led by Jason Kendall who went 3-3 with 3 RBI, but only managed one extra base hit, a double by Mitch Maier. They did, however, go 4-6 with runners in scoring position. If they’re going to go station to station, the least they can do is keep getting hits when they get guys on.

Kanekoa Texeira made his Royals debut, pitching a scoreless ninth inning. He’d been claimed off waivers from Seattle the day before, with Brad Thompson being designated for assignment to make room for him.

6/5: Justin Verlander vs. Luke Hochevar
The Royals didn’t crack the scoreboard until the 8th inning, only managing six hits all game. Other than a Miguel Cabrera solo homerun in the 6th, this was an old-fashioned pitching duel, with both pitchers working at a quick pace dominating hitters.

Blake Wood gave up three runs in the top of the 8th, which put the Royals too far behind, spoiling a strong performance by Luke Hochevar. Other than the Cabrera homer, Hochevar had Tigers hitters off balance, striking out 10 (the most since his 13 strikeout performance last year against Texas). Otherwise he walked two and gave up six hits on 109 pitches.

He was helped out by a handful of nice plays by Mike Aviles at second. Aviles didn’t carry the performance to the plate, grounding into a double play in the bottom of the 8th to end a rally with the tying runs on.

The Royals weren’t quite done, as they managed to get the tying run to the plate after an error allowed Scott Podsednik to reach, but a flyout by Jason Kendall ended the comeback.

6/6: Jeremy Bonderman vs. Brian Bannister
The Royals jumped on Bonderman early, getting a three run homerun after a pair of two-out singles by David DeJesus and Billy Butler, then scoring two more runs in the 2nd inning to give Bannister a comfortable lead.

Every player got a hit for the Royals, including Wilson Betemit, who pinch-hit for Jose Guillen late. Combined, the Royals drilled 15 hits on their way to seven runs.

It was more than enough for Bannister, who cruised through 7.1 innings on 98 pitches. He got 12 outs on groundballs, and after giving up a homer in his last 9 starts, he kept the ball in the ballpark. Add five strikeouts and only one walk, and Bannister was on his way to his second win of the week.

Blake Wood rebounded, getting the last two outs of the 8th inning with no incident in relief of Bannister. That’s a good sign after taking the loss on Saturday. Joakim Soria came in to shut the door, getting some work after four days off.

The Numbers
AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS
.284/.324/.401/.725
3 steals in 6 attempts

Team ERA: 4.43
Starters ERA: 4.96
Bullpen ERA: 3.38
Pitching staff K/BB ratio: 55/20

Streaking
David DeJesus: 12-26, 6 RBI – fatherhood suits him
Jason Kendall” 10-26, 6 RBI – credit where it’s due, he’s hitting
Yuniesky Betancourt: 7-22, 3 doubles, one 4-pitch walk
Robinson Tejeda: 4.2 IP 7/1 K/BB ratio, 0 ER
Luke Hochevar: 17/4 K/BB ratio
Brian Bannister: 2-0, 8/2 K/BB ratio

Slumping
Billy Butler: 5-26 – I’m not too worried
Alberto Callaspo: 6-25 – again, still not worried
Jose Guillen: 5-23, 9 K – but he did have two homers and 5 RBI with 4 walks
Mitch Maier: 3-21 – leveling out
Mike Aviles: 4-21 – pitchers are starting to pound the outside corner, which isn’t good considering his wide open stance and third-base stride

The Verdict
Well, the Angels series didn’t go very well. The offense sputtered and the starting pitching was suspect, but the team rebounded to win the series against Detroit, and other than a hiccup from Blake Wood, they had a solid shot to win and sweep the series.

Luke Hochevar is still a bit inconsistent, but he’s showing signs of figuring things out, and the bad starts aren’t as bad as they have been in the past. He’s been developing a splitter to use in place of a changeup, and it’s taking effect so far.

Where it was once a weakness, the bullpen is starting to come to form. The trio of Tejeda/Wood/Soria could be solid the rest of the way (though Tejeda may have some blowups in his future – he’s got some of that boom or bust to him). Farnsworth and Dusty Hughes are starting to fit their niche and with the addition of Kanekoa Texeira, the Royals have upgraded from the revolving door of Brad Thompson/Josh Rupe/Bryan Bullington. Ned Yost‘s reputation of sticking to specified roles might work with this staff, as the consistent situational use might benefit the personnel. We’ll see.

The biggest question is Zack Greinke. Sure, a 3.60 ERA with a 1.25 WHIP isn’t awful at all. Many teams would be ecstatic for that level of production from their ace, but with Greinke, it’s a different story. It hasn’t been that he’s been unlucky (though the run support issue has hurt his record), but he’s getting hit more than last year. Then again, he’s just performing closer to his career numbers, so what’s there to worry about? That question we’ll have to answer in the coming weeks.

The Royals travel to Minnesota next week, shuffling the rotation to get Greinke the opener of the series, with Kyle Davies and Bruce Chen to follow. Also next week, they’ll travel to Cincinnati for the second batch of interleague games.

Hey, we get to see Greinke hit!

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Tags: AL Central Alberto Callaspo Baseball Billy Butler Blake Wood Brian Bannister Bruce Chen Chris Getz David DeJesus Detroit Tigers Ervin Santana Gil Meche Howie Kendrick Jason Kendall Jered Weaver Joakim Soria Joel Pineiro Jon Lester Jose Guillen Kanekoa Texeira Kansas City Royals KC Kyle Davies Kyle Farnsworth Luke Hochevar Maicer Izturis Mike Aviles Mike Napoli Mitch Maier MLB Ned Yost Robinson Tejeda Royals Scott Kazmir Scott Podsednik Torii Hunter Willie Bloomquist Wilson Betemit Yuniesky Betancourt Zack Greinke

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