Royals Rewind: 5/10-5/16 – Progress (?)


The Royals returned home after a dismal road trip that saw them go 3-11. A lack of timely hitting and too many walks cost them a few games that otherwise could have been won, and after a day off for travel on Monday, they opened up against Cleveland looking to right the ship.

5/11: Jake Westbrook vs. Brian Bannister
The same demons haunted the Royals as they opened the homestand with a loss. In the first four innings, the Royals had a runner on second base with less than two outs and each time grounded out to shortstop or third base, failing to advance the runner or get them home.

Brian Bannister was hit or miss, getting relatively easy innings in the first and third, but in both the second and fourth innings, he walked the leadoff man and in both cases that walked batter scored.

The Royals were still in the game until the seventh inning (and what is it about the seventh inning that baffles our pitching staff?). Unfortunately, spotty control by Bruce Chen and a complete meltdown by Josh Rupe led to three runs by the Indians and the game was out of reach. Rupe faced four batters, allowing singles to the first two and following that up with two walks – including another walk with the bases loaded. Trey Hillman was ejected disputing a stolen base at third by Grady Sizemore but admitted later that he was incorrect. It seemed more like the result of frustration coming to a head.

A triple by Scott Podsednik resulted in a run when Billy Butler grounded out to drive him in, but the damage was done and the Royals dropped their sixth consecutive game.

5/12: Fausto Carmona vs. Kyle Davies – Here Comes the Rain Again
Prior to the game, Josh Rupe‘s poor outing was enough to get him designated for assignment as Blake Wood got called up to take his place in the bullpen. Rainy weather threatened the possibility of this game even starting and once it did, there were still two rain delays that interrupted action.

Kyle Davies rebounded from his 4 IP 9ER outing at Texas with five innings and two earned runs against, but the repeated and prolonged weather delays shut his and Carmona’s starts down after only five innings apiece.

The Royals got nine hits and five walks – and scored no runs. As a team, they hit 1-10 with runners in scoring position, leaving 13 runners on base. They squandered an opportunity in the first inning, after Scott Podsednik and Mike Aviles delivered back to back singles, David DeJesus sacrificed to put them on second and third with Billy Butler and Jose Guillen coming up. That free out became significant when Butler popped out and Guillen grounded out to end the inning.

Mini-rant time: I’m perfectly fine with playing small ball when the situation calls for it. I, like many other Royals fans, have been bunted to death by Trey Hillman. If it’s late and you need a run to tie or get an extra run cushion, I’m less frustrated by surrendering an out. A sacrifice fly with a runner on third is just fine. But I think just about any team in the league would give up an out for a base against the Royals, especially with a notably poor performance with runners on.

In this case, the particular move – getting second and third with one out – is the best case run expectancy option by the numbers and the best use of the sacrifice bunt. But not in the context of this situation. With your number three hitter at the plate, you have a chance for a big inning in your first at bat. In the seventh inning in a two run game, fine, it’s wasting your #3 hitter but you get a chance to get Billy Butler up with the tying or go-ahead runs in scoring position.

But not the first inning.

In the fourth inning, the Royals came upon a similar situation, as Alberto Callaspo led off with a double and Jason Kendall reached on a beanball. Mitch Maier, who had come off a 6-21 4 RBI performance at Chicago and Texas, bunted them both over an extra base. I’d still like Maier to get a chance to hit there, especially when you’re not setting up your cleanup hitter but rather your #8 and #9 hitters. Yuniesky Betancourt, on cue, popped the first pitch up to the third baseman, another failure in an RBI situation.

After all the delays and missed opportunities, it looked like the Royals gave up on this game. Thirteen runners on and none of them scoring – that’s just awful, even for Kansas City.

5/13: David Huff vs. Zack Greinke
The offense finally woke up for Greinke for a change, though through the first three innings, they hadn’t done much against lefty David Huff. Greinke wasn’t as sharp as we’re used to, but he wasn’t off either. A few bloops and seeing-eye hits resulted in baserunners and runs but if 6 IP and 3 ER with two walks is a pedestrian effort, he’s doing something right. Greinke struck out eight and made efficient use of his pitches after the first three innings.

Alberto Callaspo hit a three-run homer into the left field corner in the fourth inning and the Royals strung some hits together in the fifth to score two more. They tacked on one more in the sixth and it turned out to be enough. The team looked to have a lot more energy on offense, hitting the ball hard. Brayan Pena went 0-4 in only his second start, but he could have added a couple of hits if the Indians hadn’t been positioned just right to snag what would otherwise be sharp hits.

Betancourt hit a couple of doubles and made a heads-up baserunning move in the fifth inning, advancing to third on a ground out after breaking as soon as the ball left shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera‘s hand. He later scored from third.

The big story of the day – other than Greinke’s first win – was the firing of Trey Hillman. We’ve covered the news and looked at what led to his ouster so I won’t rehash it here, but it’s a move that looked inevitable.

5/14: Mark Buehrle vs. Gil Meche
Buehrle dominated the Royals until Yuniesky Betancourt homered off of him in the sixth inning. To that point, Buehrle was under a ten pitch per inning pace and had been nearly perfect. Gil Meche wasn’t as sharp, but was effective, following his eight inning, 128- pitch effort his last time out, with a 100-pitch six inning no decision.

It would have been nice to get Meche the win since he looked at his best so far this year, walking only two and giving up just one run, but he left just before the Royals strung some hits together to explode for five runs in the bottom of the seventh. Mitch Maier capped off the rally with a sharp single to center that scored two.

The bullpen contributed three scoreless innings to cement the victory, and Ned Yost got his first win as Royals manager.

5/15: Jake Peavy vs. Luke Hochevar
The Royals kept the scoring going, tallying three runs on a bases-loaded double by Alberto Callaspo. Jake Peavy, who’d dominated the Royals in Chicago, did so again, only surrendering a homerun to Billy Butler the rest of the night before giving way to Matt Thornton in the ninth.

Hochevar was strong through six innings, which is good. Too bad he pitched into the seventh, because the dreaded big inning jumped up to bite him again. Ned Yost left him in to try to work through it, but Hochevar only managed to get one out.

He looked tentative in the inning, but also got some bad luck. Alexei Ramirez reached on an infield single on a slow chopper to short that he just beat out as it slowed in the wet grass and Betancourt rushed the throw with a wet ball. Billy Butler still almost got the tag to get him, but instead of one on and two out, there were runners on first and second and only one out. From there, Hochevar nibbled against Mark Teahen and walked the bases loaded and backup catcher Ramon Castro drove in two with a single. More bad luck struck as Juan Pierre snuck a weak grounder past Mike Aviles at second base. If Betancourt and Aviles can make those plays, the inning is over and it saves a couple of runs.

Hochevar is a contact pitcher, so those kinds of hits will happen. He’ll have to manage the walks and keep his composure in the future to avoid that big inning. Unfortunately, we’ve said the same thing about him since he’s been in the big leagues. Yost left him in to work through it this time, as his pitch count wasn’t elevated at all (he finished with 103 pitches), but if this trend continues, he may get a shorter leash in the future.

5/16: Gavin Floyd vs. Brian Bannister – “Killing him softly with singles”
The top of the lineup produced on Sunday, with Mike Aviles, Billy Butler and Jose Guillen getting two hits each and drove in four of the Royals’ five runs. Mitch Maier added the fifth with a groundout. Every hit was a single, but the Royals got them in bunches to chip in enough runs to win.

Brian Bannister was strong through six innings, pitching efficiently and retiring 10 of 11 in one stretch, mostly on groundballs. He only walked one all day and after giving up two runs early, he cruised, not allowing a runner past second until Alex Rios singled to lead off the seventh inning and came around to score. Even that’s not so much Bannister’s fault, as Dusty Hughes relieved him after the leadoff single and walked Mark Kotsay and after a fly ball and a single, allowed the inherited runner to score. Hughes settled down and got through the inning.

Blake Wood, newly arrived, pitched the eighth inning, and there’s a hint that he may be the choice as Yost’s setup man. So far he’s been effective, allowing only one hit and one walk in four relief innings in his first week in the majors. If he can continue to be solid and move the game to Joakim Soria, it will greatly benefit the Royals long-term as he could fill that role through the duration of Soria’s contract. Let’s let him face some adversity or get on a roll before we anoint him, though.

The Verdict
Considering how the road trip went and how the homestand started, 3-3 isn’t too bad for the week. Technically, the Royals are 3-1 since firing Trey Hillman, as he was allowed to manage one last game after learning of his fate.

There’s usually a bounce after a new manager takes over mid-season, as players wake up a bit, a new energy hits the clubhouse, and players pick it up a bit to stay in or win a role.

It also helped to get some strong pitching most of the time. The bullpen especially stepped up. Other than giving up four runs in the first game in the Cleveland series, they were very effective, a far cry from their performance in April. Maybe there was something to all that turnover and chaos early. Blake Wood could be exciting, as the Royals haven’t really had that setup man since trading Ramon Ramirez and Leo Nunez before 2009.

Only one Royals starter made it past six innings in this stretch, so the bullpen may see struggles if they get overworked at all through the next week. Robinson Tejeda apparently has an issue with his calf muscle, so Brian Bullington was called up after Sunday’s game to join the club in Baltimore for a two game series, so Yost and Dayton Moore may have an eye on that bullpen usage and keep another arm around for a while.

The Royals had a shot at a 4-2 week, but they’ll have to get either more hits with runners in scoring position, or more extra base hits. They got 52 hits, but only 8 of those were for extra bases. Alberto Callaspo‘s power has continued to blossom so far, and Butler’s making solid contact that could lead to more doubles and homers down the line, but for the most part, the lineup is full of singles hitters and Jose Guillen (who only has two extra base hits since April 25th).

The Numbers
.265/.321/.362/.683 – just not enough pop in those bats
3 steals in 4 attempts

Mike Aviles: 9-25
Billy Butler: 8-22, 5 RBI
Alberto Callaspo: 8-24, 6 RBI
Scott Podsednik: 7-24, 2 SB

Jose Guillen: 4-22, 4 RBI
David DeJesus: 4-21, but has 6 BB and reached in 10 of 27 appearances (.370 OBP for the week)
Yuniesky Betancourt: 4-20
Mitch Maier: 4-20

Team ERA: 3.83
Starters ERA: 4.07
Bullpen ERA: 3.37

Dusty Hughes: 4.2 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 1 BB, 5 K
Blake Wood: 4 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 1 BB, 1 K

The Royals head to Baltimore for a two game series, then stop in Cleveland for two games before returning home and starting interleague play against the Colorado Rockies in Kansas City.

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