Perfect Meltdown

After five innings, Luke Hochevar had shut down all 15 Cleveland hitters he’d faced.  Going back to his start against the Mariners, he’d retired his last 31.  Dozens of baseball writers, bloggers, tweeters and commentors were cracking their knuckles, ready to start discussing the finally realized potential of the first overall pick in the 2006 draft.

After seven innings, Hochevar had been chased from the game, giving up six runs.

Um, ouch.

The start encapsulates Hochevar’s career so far.  Sometimes brilliant, more often mediocre, Hochevar has teased us with great performances before.

As usual, it seemed shaken focus was his downfall.

After cruising for the first five innings, Michael Brantley ripped a 2-1 pitch up the middle to break up the perfect game.  On a pickoff attempt, Hochevar balked, sending him to second.  It seemed he lost his composure after that, giving up an RBI double down the line to Matt LaPorta, then, after a ground out moved him to third base, he balked again, allowing another run.  After getting the second out, he allowed three more hits and a walk for a total of four runs allowed.

Tim Collins relieved him and struggled with command.  It looks like he’s trying to be too fine and while the stuff is good enough to strike out batters, it’s a long trip to get there.  He walked two and gave up a double in his lone inning tonight.

Even with a ninth inning rally, capped by a two run homer by Jeff Francoeur, the Royals got too little, too late.

The first five innings of the game, though, looked like the Royals were cruising.  They got runners on, but nobody came through.  They were 2-10 with runners in scoring position and stranded ten runners.  They worked seven walks, but only two of those baserunners scored.

In the first, Billy Butler struck out with Alex Gordon on third and one out.  In the seventh, Chris Getz and Melky Cabrera walked, but Gordon and Butler both flew out.  After Francoeur (of all people) walked, Mike Aviles struck out looking on a pitch that looked like it was out of the strike zone, but was too close to not try to foul off at least.

After five excellent innings, though, the Royals let the first batter of each inning reach base.  Even if it’s just the Indians (and they’ll come back to earth, too, soon), you can’t let major league hitters have a free runner every inning.

We’ve been down this road before with Hochevar so I’ll leave someone else to take on his head-scratching tale of bipolar performance.  Hopefully, Tim Collins can make whatever adjustments are necessary to get back on track.  He might be pressing, but his height does cause pitches to stay up, and perhaps, in order to adjust for that, he gets too fine.

There are a few positives to take from a game like this though.  Hochevar still retired 15 in a row to start the game.  Alex Gordon extended his career high hitting streak to 14 games with a triple in the first inning.  The Royals walked seven times.  Jeff Francoeur is still hitting for now, and even the scourge of many Royals fans right now, Kila Ka’aihue, got two hits and walked.

Still, this one hurts.  Nobody really expects to give up seven runs to Cleveland in four innings.

The Royals shoot to split the series tomorrow evening with Sean O’Sullivan (1-1, 5.00) making his second start of the year.  The Indians will try to win the series behind Josh Tomlin (3-0, 2.75).  The Royals, to their credit, haven’t lost a series yet, splitting two and winning three.

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Tags: AL Central Alex Gordon Baseball Jeff Francoeur Kansas City Royals KC Luke Hochevar MLB Tim Collins

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