Royals’ fans probably do not need any extra incentive to be enamored with Joakim Soria, but just in case, yesterday produced another moment.
This moment has nothing to do with Soria retiring Justin Morneau with two out in the eighth and Joe Mauer on first in a two run game – although that was certainly big. Instead, it has everything to do with what happened in the inning after that.
By then, of course, the Royals were comfortably in front 10-5 thanks to Alberto Callaspo’s second three-run homer of the day, so the pressure was off. You can insert your ‘Trey Hillman leverage analysis here’. Soria took to the mound in the bottom of the ninth and did something that every member of the pitching staff should have taken note of: he didn’t mess around.
Facing Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Delmon Young, the Royals’ closer threw twelve pitches, ten of which were cut fastballs and eight for strikes. Basically, Joakim simply said, “I’m going to throw cutters for a strikes and I am pretty sure I’m good enough that you cannot string together enough hits to beat me.”
What’s this? Throw strikes? Believe in your stuff? Every member of this pitching staff from Greinke down to Mendoza (and that’s a long journey, my friends) would be wise to remember that simple mantra.
Of course, the biggest offenders are those that pitch in relief that are not named Soria. As a team, and this includes Soria’s numbers, the Royals bullpen is dead last in baseball when it comes to throwing the first pitch for a strike: tossing strike one just under fifty percent of the time. When the bullpen throws a ball out of the strike zone, opponents take a cut at them just 20% of the time – again, dead last in baseball.
Does it come as any surprise that Joakim Soria and John Parrish both induce swings out of the strike zone 35% of the time, while no other reliever tops 20%? Suppose it has anything to do with Parrish throwing 63% of his pitches for strikes and Soria tossing strikes at a 71% clip?
Yesterday was a big win for the Royals as they try to stay within hailing distance of .500. They hit the ball well, Luke Hochevar battled and Josh Rupe did just enough to squelch the fire lit by Dusty Hughes (who has thrown 53 balls and 50 strikes this yea) to get the game to Soria. I will also, once again, give credit to Trey Hillman for being willing to go to Soria in the 8th. Overall, a good day when the team really needed one.
That said, the Royals have wasted two weeks of good hitting mostly because their bullpen has hurt more than helped. Dayton Moore cleaned house in the pen after his arrival with the intention of getting strike throwers and yet, somehow, has ended up with a relief crew that is eerily similar (albeit better behaved) to that he inherited from Allard Baird. Is twelve games into a 162 game schedule too early to clean house? I don’t think so.
The Royals may end up being a better offensive team than most of us expected, but they are not going to hit like this forever. Dropping Colon and bringing up Josh Rupe is a start, but more changes need to follow.
I heard a comment on talk radio last week referencing potential bullpen help that went along the lines of ‘the guys in the minors obviously didn’t show enough to make the team in the spring, can we expect them to help now?’ Well, ‘the guys’ who decided who should make the team broke camp with Roman Colon as the primary setup man. Perhaps it is time to reevaluate the evaluation.
Rumors are out that Dayton Moore is looking to trade Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth and eat some/most of their salaries along the way. Hey, it’s worth a try, but better pitchers have simply been released in the last couple of weeks so I am not holding my breath.
Truth is, Cruz has been incredibly hittable this season and Farnsworth cannot pitch in any situation with any sort of leverage (actual or Trey Hillman imagined). They are a waste of time and, sadly, a waste of games, too.
You want to make a statement about throwing strikes? Drop Cruz, Farnsworth, Hughes and Mendoza and pull up Bryan Bullington, Matt Herges, Blake Wood and Brad Thompson. Truthfully, does anyone think the bullpen would be any worse? If it turns out being so, then the Royals still have Carlos Rosa, Greg Holland and Chris Hayes to try after that.
Basically, Dayton Moore and the Royals can sit and talk about throwing strikes and getting better production or they can actually make some moves to give this team a chance at respectability. The time is now.