I started to write this column during the game last night, but after I had rewritten the opening paragraph three times and watched the Royals go from one strike away from a win to almost certain defeat back to winning, I decided a mental break was in order.
We will start at the beginning and recap last night’s 3-2 extra inning win.
An effective Luke Hochevar is one of the top three keys to the Royals doing anything more than just keeping their heads above water this year. Last night, we had a very effective Hochevar on the mound. Now, we have seen this act before: the one where Luke pitches so well that we all just know that he has finally turned the corner, only to see Hochevar stumble back into ineffectiveness. What was different last night was the velocity with which Luke threw.
The Royals have seemingly been tinkering with the 2006 number one overall pick since the moment he signed on the dotted line. They continued to do so this spring and were rewarded with an average fastball velocity of 95.2 mph on Lukes four-seamer and 94 mph on his sinker/two-seamer. Last season, Hochevar’s average fastball velocity was 91.8 mph. Now is the time to insert the obligatory ‘do we trust the gun?’ reference, but let’s believe until shown evidence otherwise.
Perhaps more important than raw velocity, was Hochevar’s ability to keep the ball down. Sixteen of the twenty ‘in-play’ outs he recorded were ground balls. Not only that, but all sixteen were fielded flawlessly by the Royals’ infield: noteworthy simply for the rarity of that event last season.
More of this from Hochevar and a healthy start from Gil Meche on Sunday will start to get me excited this year.
We here at the Authority certainly have dished out our share of criticism of Trey Hillman, but I have to give him a little credit for two pitching moves on Wednesday night. First, Trey went to Joakim Soria for the final out of the 8th inning. I liked this move for several reasons, not the least of which was that Hochevar was at 89 pitches in his first start of the year and his velocity was slipping. Secondly, Austin Jackson was in just his second major league game and probably has never encountered the likes of Soria in his entire life. Third, I don’t trust another reliever in the bullpen. It was the right move in a close game where his team really needed a win.
Miguel Cabrera is good, not lucky. Let’s face it, two inches to the right or eighteen inches lower and Cabrera does not tie the game with two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning. That said, Cabrera knew that Soria could not get a grip on his breaking pitches last night and simply stood in and fouled off fastballs until he could get one in play. For whatever reason (cold/rain/wind), Joakim simply could not get his curveball within four feet of the strike zone and it eventually caught up to him against Cabrera.
The second kudo to Hillman, goes for his replacement of Robinson Tejeda with lefty specialist John Parrish in the top of the tenth. Not only was it a lefty on lefty matchup, but Johnny Damon was one for fourteen lifetime against Parrish. Again, the proper move at the proper time: noteworthy only because it seldom happened last season.
Why Kyle Farnsworth? When the Royals trotted out Kyle Farnsworth to start the eleventh, I pretty much figured Hillman had decided it was too early in the year to play more than eleven innings. Sure, Farnsworth had pitched an effective inning in the meaningless ninth on Monday, but we all know what the bespectacled one does in a tight game late. If you don’t remember, check last night’s play by play: three straight hits and the go ahead run.
I know there are really no options beyond Soria in the bullpen, but in a tie game Farnsworth is the worst option and we have history, stats and scouting reports to prove it.
A good night for The Process. Dayt0n Moore had to be smiling after seeing after seeing his off-season acquisitions account for nine of the Royals’ twelve baserunners on the night. Sure, it was Alberto Callaspo who tied the game and Billy Butler who (in the person of pinch-runner Willie Bloomquist) accounted for the game winning run, but there was Rick Ankiel bashing a double to the wall that triggered the winning run. Jason Kendall and Scott Podsednik each walked twice, Chris Getz drove in the first run of the night and bunted what could have been the winning run over in the tenth. I am skeptical of all those guys except Getz, but on this night it was hard to argue with the results.
Overall, had the Royals lost, we could have gone negative pretty easily. Why not a pinch hitter at some point in this game? Why, after he made the last out of the tenth, not replace Podsednik and his awful arm with Mitch Maier for defense (magnified when the Tigers scored their run in the 11th on a single to left)?
For today, however, the Royals did win on a night when their All-Star closer blew a save and Kyle Farnsworth pitched when it mattered. While I have long ago given up on the idea of momentum in baseball, you simply have to take like that the Royals managed to pull this one out.