Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Zack the Redeemer.

(rickreilly)

Three years ago, Zack Greinke left the game to deal with his issues with anxiety. Today, Greinke came to rescue us from our own.

(/rickreilly)

If yesterday revealed in bold detail the pitfalls that await the Royals on their way to being contenders, today was a reminder as to why so many of us believe that contention isn’t such a pipe dream this year.

I couldn’t wait to wash the bad taste from Opening Day out of my mouth, but I couldn’t help but worry that I was about to replace the salty tang of anger with the bitter taste of despair. Sparky Anderson always said that “momentum is tomorrow’s starting pitcher”, but was tomorrow’s starter the Zack Greinke we know and love, or the Greinke that was 0-6 with a 7.78 ERA at U.S. Cellular Field? (Many of you might remember the last time I saw Greinke pitch up here. I certainly do, despite months of therapy.)

Instead, we got Greinke’s first salvo in the Cy Young race. Six brilliant innings. Strikeouts of seven different hitters. Three harmless singles. A key double play to put the brakes on the White Sox’ one solid rally. A Carlos Quentin HBP that may or may not have been intentional, but either way reminded the Sox that they can’t hit two of our batters (as they did on Tuesday) and not expect retaliation.

You all know how I feel about Greinke – I’m certainly not impartial, and I’m barely rational. But I could not have asked for a better start from him than the one he gave tonight. If he can put aside five years of futility in this ballpark and deliver six shutout innings on a night with no margin for error and the Royals needing a big win…well, let’s just say I can’t wait to see what he does with his 33 remaining starts.

Trey Hillman, coming off one of his worst performances as a handler of the pitching staff, was as flawless as Greinke in that regard. Zack finished the sixth having thrown 93 pitches, and in my own mind I was conflicted as to whether he should be left out there for another inning. On the one hand, it was his first start of the year, a cool night in Chicago, and as effective as he had been, he had allowed at least one baserunner in every inning but the first – I didn’t think this was a good night to let him approach 110 pitches. On the other, the Royals had a two-run lead with nine outs to go, and as long as Greinke wasn’t tired, he was better than anyone else that the Royals might bring into the game. My feeling was, let him start the inning, but pull him at the first sign of any trouble.

His first pitch to Jermaine Dye was up in the zone. His second was drilled to center for a single, and as fast as Rob Neyer could IM me “uh-oh”, Hillman was on the mound taking the ball away. Juan Cruz came in, and watching him pitch only made Hillman’s decision to go with Farnsworth yesterday even more mystifying. I mean, Cruz doesn’t just throw hard, his pitches move. Nothing is straight, and coming from that low three-quarters motion, he ought to be just death on right-handed hitters.

Cruz breezed through the next three batters to strand Dye, and Hillman made another shrewd move in the eighth, leaving Cruz in for a second inning. This is another one of those areas where the trend towards more conservative usage of pitchers has gone too far: you rarely see relievers throw multiple innings anymore. Well, you do, but it’s almost always the mop-up relievers and swingmen trying to save the rest of the bullpen – in other words, the worst relievers are the ones throwing the most innings. Cruz appeared in 57 games last season, but just six times was he used to get more than three outs – and he pitched two full innings in a game just once. That’s how one of the Diamondbacks’ best relievers threw just 52 innings all season.

Thanks to Hillman, Cruz matched that total of two-inning appearances tonight, and was as awesome – six up, six down – as Farnsworth was awful. Cruz actually threw fewer pitches (21) in his two innings than Farnsworth did (24) in his one. I’d like to think that means he’s available if the Royals have a lead to preserve in the eighth inning tomorrow; realistically, it looks like it will be Ron Mahay’s turn on Hillman’s merry-go-round.

Joakim Soria finished things off in the ninth, ending the game on an absolutely ridiculous curveball to Dye. Quentin and Thome had both made outs on 2-1 pitches, so when Soria worked the count to 2-2 on Dye, it was clear that the Mexicutioner was about to unleash the Guillotine, as I call his vicious (and delicious) slow curveball that he dispatches his victims with. I knew it was coming, you knew it, I imagine Dye knew it, and we all knew that there was nothing Dye could do about it anyway.

Except late last year hitters started to expect that pitch with two strikes, and they learned to spit on it as Soria bounced it in the dirt, forcing him to adjust. The Sox have seen him as much as anyone, so I figured that Soria would be better off not trying to bury the pitch, but instead starting it high and keeping it in the strike zone.


He did me one better – he started it up in Dye’s eyes, but as it dropped it also made a left turn, and by the time it hit Olivo’s glove it was down and away. Dye could have stood up there with a cricket bat, a tennis racket, or a cello and there was no way he was hitting that pitch. It was beautiful.

Hillman did spotless work with his pitchers, but he still needs to be dinged for his, ahem, strange approach to late-inning defense. I was so upset about the usage of Farnsworth yesterday that I didn’t even bother to mention the fact that in the eighth inning, with a one-run lead, Mark Teahen was still playing second base in his first game ever at the position, while Willie Bloomquist sat on the bench.

Well tonight, in the eighth inning, Bloomquist finally came in for defense…in right field. Somehow, with Bloomquist and Teahen both on the field, Hillman decided that the best defensive arrangement was to have Teahen at second base and Bloomquist in right field, not the other way around. (Remember, this is the same guy who last year, in the game where the Royals blew a five-run lead in the ninth, had Teahen at first and Ross Gload in right field. And one of the key hits in the inning fell just in front of Gload.)

I can’t argue with the results. With one out in the eighth, the speedy DeWayne Wise hit a grounder just to the right of the second base bag. I would have bet anything that Teahen, ranging far to his right, would have mishandled the ball – and when he came up with it and fired to first base, I would have bet anything that his throw was way offline. Instead, it was a picture-perfect play that got Wise out by about three steps. I can’t argue with the results, but I can still argue with the execution. I’m as hopeful as anyone that Teahen can turn into a quality defensive player at second base, but let’s see him prove it first before leaving him there with a small lead to protect in the late innings.

The brilliance of the pitching allows us to overlook, for now, another meager output from the offense. The Royals are 1-1 despite scoring just two runs in each game…and could easily be 2-0. Much like last April, the Royals have done a good job of winning when they get even a little offense – but getting even a little offense is turning into a chore.

For now, momentum is Kyle Davies. If Davies laissez les bon temps roulez and the Royals win tomorrow, Hillman’s shenanigans on Opening Day will be overshadowed by the team’s winning record. If Cruz quickly replaces Farnsworth in the pecking order of Royals’ relievers, those shenanigans may even be forgotten some day.

xxx

Don’t look for me to post anything tomorrow, so consider this your open thread to discuss my first radio show tomorrow night. Feel free to critique, criticize, or just plain make fun of me here.

45 comments:

Daniel Wesley said...

I'll wait until the Royals are out of cold and damp Chicago before I complain about the offense.

Other than that, not much to argue about tonight.

Matt B said...

Im off at college away from KC so I watched the game on WGN and the commentators really got on Zack and the Royals for throwing at Quentin. I guess they forgot that two Royals were hit yesterday.

Anyway, isn't it illegal for A.J. to try to block first base like he would home plate. Doesn't the rule book allow the umpire to protect the runner, because it certainly didn't look like Aviles got back to the bag in time. If I read the Ump's lips properly when Pierzynski singled in the next half inning, he said something like "you can't block the bag" when Pierzynski asked him about it.

Matt Berger said...

Im off at college away from KC so I watched the game on WGN and the commentators really got on Zack and the Royals for throwing at Quentin. I guess they forgot that two Royals were hit yesterday.

Anyway, isn't it illegal for A.J. to try to block first base like he would home plate. Doesn't the rule book allow the umpire to protect the runner, because it certainly didn't look like Aviles got back to the bag in time. If I read the Ump's lips properly when Pierzynski singled in the next half inning, he said something like "you can't block the bag" when Pierzynski asked him about it.

AxDxMx said...

Agree with Daniel. It's too cold right now for the offense, it will come around.

The only thing that baffled me today was the defensive replacement in RF. Bloomy and Teahen should have switched places. Forgivable today because it didn't cost us, but tomorrow, who knows?

Matt S said...

I guess I was a little nervous Soria might have been some kind of one year wonder. Nothing made me feel better that that 9th inning today.
\
That and Frank White. Nothing against Split, but Frank's detailed insights into hitting, fielding and baserunning are an absolute joy to listen to. I will never fast forward through a saved game as long as White is announcing. I don't want to miss some wonderful nugget of wisdom from one of the most professional players to ever play the game.

jonfmorse said...

I'm pretty sure Hillman left Teahen at 2B for purely psychological reasons (confidence boost). That doesn't make it the right move, but it's at least explicable.

You know, unlike yesterday's fiasco.

Mark had a good game in the field, the one off-line DP relay throw notwithstanding. Maybe I'm just being too pragmatic about this situation, but I'm considering one misplay by Teahen per game to be the cost of doing business here while he acclimates; he's athletic enough and conscientious enough that I'm perfectly willing to give him that rope for now.

In that light, while I recognize that sending The Spork to RF was not the optimal move, it didn't actually bother me. Trey's letting Mark know he's got confidence in him. While that IS a hand that can be grossly overplayed, I'll accept it in this case, for now.

Anonymous said...

Had Teahen failed to render the plays he had earlier in the game as outs I would feel the same as you about putting him in RF. But as it were I think Teahen's confidence at second is one of the more important things to protect at this point. Hillman did well not fixing something that wasn't broken. There isn't enough that can be said about Greinke. He did exactly what he needed to do in every situation, despite a couple walks. And I absolutely see the value in dotting Quentin in a close game like this. I don't think it was in retaliation for last night either. Greinke was sending a message to anyone who was watching that if you hang over the plate and stand on top of it you'll get buzzed. If you continue, you'll get hit. Even Zack can't succeed when a guy crowds the plate making every outside pitch right down the middle. For a player who has a tough time to keep the ball fair when its pulled, standing close to the plate helps him keep his hands inside the ball and serve it fair to left. Greinke wouldn't allow it. Its a sign that the Royals arenn't who they've been the last few years. Not even last year, the Royals are a team that will force you to respect them which is a brand new development. We have all star level starters going 1 and 2, a closer that blew 2 saves last year and was an all star, and a bullpen stocked full of guys like Juan Cruz who have electric stuff. Kyle Farnsworth will be an asset to the club if he is usd in the correct ways. I do not blame him for yesterday at all. Hillman has to put his players in a position to succeed. His primary purpose is to mitigate situations where players have shown a trend of being unsuccessful.
I am in no way as worried about the offense as you are. Whats different from last year is Kevin Seitzer. Hitting coaches can't make untalented players hit. What they can do is help talented players find a successful method. I am very pleased to see that the Royals are finally working counts to their favor and getting hits, at least in the first game. Miguel Olivo last year would have taken an 0-2 count to the bench, this year he worked the count to 2-2 before getting puched out (WITH THE BASES LOADED!!!) 2-2 with 2 outs is the toughest pitch to hit. Pitchers get fined for giving up 0-2 HR's so you know they are going to waste a pitch. 1-2 you're still just trying to fight one off and get lucky, 3-2 you know he has to throw a strike like you have to swing only at strikes. 2-2 you are one pitch away from strikesville, and the pitcher knows it. He can play around or come right at you. You're trying to get to 3-2 when all of a sudden, right down main street. So I excuse that K, kind of. Its great to see that Aviles still hits anything white with laces and its GREAT to see Teahen hitting the ball like he is. We're going to be alright.

Anonymous said...

Zack was awesome tonight. I don't think that he hit Quentin as retaliation for yesterday. It wouldn't make sense to pick the guy in front of Thome for that. Especially when you have such an easy target as A.J., one of the biggest A-holes in the game, to throw at. I think he hit Quentin to keep them off the plate. Having said that, I think he should have buried one in A.J.'s ribs after that stunt at 1B with Aviles. If A.J. had broken Aviles hand with his shinguard we're looking at TPJ as our starting SS again. You have to send the message that there is no messing with Aviles. If TPJ has to play for an extended period, our season is doomed. Hillman did a better job with the pitchers tonight, but he still botched the lineup management and the late game defense management. Guillen should not be batting 4th against RHP, who he has shown a downward trend against over the last 3 years, Gordon or Jacobs should. The correct defensive move was to put Bloomy at 2B and move Teahen to RF. Teahen doesn't need Hillman to take risks with leads to show him that he has confidence in him, that is what makes Teahen so valuable. He has enough confidence to play all over and accept his mistakes without letting them get him down. I also can't understand why Hillman refuses to use his bench late in games. Why do we have 3 catchers on the roster if you aren't going to take advantage of B. Pena as a late inning pinch hitter? He should have hit for Olivo, who also can't hit RHP, late and then Buck could have finished the game at catcher.

drewfuss said...

1) In cold weather, I'd rather stick with the starter who has worked up a good lather rather than bring in a cold reliever just started throwing 10 mins ago. Cruz did great though. Soria too.

2) Bloomquist in RF with Teahen at 2B is a real head scratcher. If Teahen needs to stay in to hit, he can go to RF or 1B. Teahen made that play look much less routine than it was. Glad he made it, though.

3) Aside from Guillen, who clearly hates the weather, very, very impressed with the number of pitches Jacobs and the rest of the Royals are looking at. Top notch.

4) Farnsworth should never pitch in the 8th inning with a lead. Never! Doubly so against ANY LH hitter.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. The move to keep Teahen at 2B was a confidence booster, and it looks like it is working so far. Let's give Trey credit where credit is due.

Anonymous said...

I disagree that Teahen made the play in the eighth look more difficult than it was. He had to take seven or eight steps to his right and throw over his shoulder going away from the target. That is not an easy play for any second baseman, and he looked as smooth as we could have hoped.

The only way to make that play more routine is to have him shaded more up the middle to begin with.

It is a play we expect a decent second baseman to make, and we all held our breaths collectively, I'm sure, because we are all finding out together whether he can do it. But he made the play just fine.

RoyalGreek said...

I must say...While watching Zack last night, I had flashbacks to 1989 and could picture Bret Saberhagen--at nearly the identical age--just toying with hitters.

Dominating performance.

chuckodb said...

Concerning the late-inning defense, I still don't understand why we have so many infielders. Why keep TPJ, Bloomquist and Callaspo and leave Maier off. It would make defensive replacements a lot more sensible and give us a lot of speed to cover the gaps at the K late in the game. I understand keeping Teahen at second for confidence, but putting Bloomquist at second and Teahen at first might give us a better defense late in the game.

Robert said...

Greinke was outstanding. Not much more to say here.

If Teahen is going to be the everyday 2nd baseman, I don't like the idea of shuttling him off to right field when Guillen gets pulled as a defensive replacement (even though that is the optimal way to do it). Ultimately, he was playing well, and it is better for the season-long success of the Royals for Teahen to believe he's the every inning 2nd baseman. This is one of the (few) strategic areas where I think the handling of real players differs from Stratomatic cards.

Pierzynski would have been drilled for blocking first if Zack hadn't already plunked a guy, IMO. His next at bat was a good opportunity to do it, but Greinke would have likely been ejected.

Shelby said...

I don't like the walks.



And what exactly did Pierzinsky do? I must have missed it.

I hate that f**ker though.

And I hate Hawk....there is no redeeming him.

Jon said...

Zach has better stuff than Sabes ever did. And until the White Sox can go a decade without having one of their 'fans' assault anyone on the field at the Cell, I don't really care what Hawk says.

drewfuss said...

willie bloomquist = worst starting RF in MLB so far this year! and probably the rest of the year, too!

Shelby said...

Davies is tearin' it up....awesome!

drewfuss said...

Coco!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Slam the door, Joakim!

Shelby said...

and he did.....barely.


This drought of offense has me concerned....our offense should be more solid than the White Sox.

(which it has been these first three games, but seriously.....we've had our opps)

Nathan said...

It'll be interesting to see if Meche, Greinke and Davies can do anything like this in warmer weather...but so far this looks like one hell of a playoff rotation! Three good-to-great starters will cover over many sins on the rest of the roster, and that's even more true in the playoffs than in the regular season.

Eric said...

I'll keep a wary eye on the offense, but I'm not going to get too worked up now. It was cold in Chicago.

That being said, we did a good job of working pitch counts in this weather. Except Guillen.

Home opener tomorrow. A win would be beautiful.

Clint said...

t - minus 1 hour, big guy.

Anonymous said...

Nice job on WHB tonight Rany!

Unknown Royals Fan said...

Davies > Grienke.

At least this week.

Clint said...

the radio show is awesome. forget skin care, you should do this full time!

Bryan said...

I went to last night's game, and I can't tell you all how satisfying it is to finally be able to walk out of the cell with a smile on my face, and with southsiders offering pedestrian taunts.

As to Teahen at second base, I thought he looked great there last night, although his range is average at best. From my seat on the third base side, his turns on DPs looked solid, given that he's only been a starter at 2nd for two days. Also, I think Teahen might be the type of player who needs to touch the ball often (i.e. be more involved in the flow of the game) in order to be more effective at the plate. Today's game aside, I think the first series could portend the truth of my theory.

Brian said...

will the radio show be podcasted at all on whb's website?

Derek said...

Show was great Rany, you seemed like a natural to me.

BornBredBlue said...

Hey, not bad being 2-1 (despite the fact that we should probably be 3-0, but we won't rehash that again right now).

However excited that I am that we have gotten off to a decent start and our top 3 guys in the rotation were lights out, I can't help but be concerned. I'm trying not to be negative here, but nonetheless, any celebration over our first series has drawn as much nervousness as it has elation.

For instance, what is going to happen when Meche, Greinke, and Davis - as good as they were - aren't pitching bebees and have an off night as they inevitably will? And what's going to happen when our solid #4 (oh wait, he's in Omaha) and our left-hander off the street of a #5 take the bump over the next two games? (not to mention 40% of all games to come?) Or while we're talking about pitching, how often can we count on Hillman to screw up what little talent we have?

Our offense managed a meager 2 runs per game over three games. AND WE WON TWO OF THEM! Inexplicable, I know. Somehow, the Baseball Gods which have routinely striken the Royals down with the fortune of never putting timely hitting and lock-down pitching in the same 9 innings, apparently were on a 3-day picnic recently. But 2 runs a game ain't gonna cut it, folks. It just ain't.

And I don't see any reason to believe it's going to get a lot better. Right now our #3 hitter is a third turned right fielder turned first baseman turned second baseman who, for some reason, people think will turn success in the thin Arizona air into a sustainable step forward. This is Mark Teahan of the 0.255 and nearly a strikeout per game. Gordon and Butler are big IFs. Jacobs is a OBP nightmare. Guillen is Guillen. And Aviles needs to avoid a sophomore slump. DeJesus and Crisp are the only solid bets to be decent, average hitters. And our catchers will combine to be slightly below average offensively for their position.

Here's looking for the best, but terrified that 20+ years of sucking isn't behind us yet.

Nathan said...

I'd like to add my voice to Brian's question on this one. Any chance your work will be podcast on WHB? I'd love to listen.

Anonymous said...

BornBredBlue... it's too early to be overly concerned about the offense. If you aren't pleased with the KC offense yet this season, how the heck do you think the White Sox are feeling? We won 2 of 3 while scoring only 6 runs. 5 players currently on the White Sox had more HR (36, 34, 34, 22, 21) than anyone on the Royals (Guillen - 20) last year, yet they only hit one in the series and scored only 5 runs (3 on their HR). I don't expect the Royals (or any team for that matter) to be clicking on all cylinders from the get-go, nor do I expect that for the entire season. Exhuberant thoughts need to be tempered by reasonable expectations. It's a long season and it will inevitably ebb-and-flow.

Anonymous said...

Great radio show, Rany! I hope it's posted on itunes as a podcast.

Anonymous said...

I'm not concerned about the offense. They were probably saving it for today when Ponson pitches.

Ryan said...

As Ponson struggles to get out of the first inning, I'm wondering Hillman's wisdom to have three lefties bat 3-4-5 against the southpaw, Pettitte.

Fourth game of the season, and Jacobs is already dropped to the 7th spot.

Carl Willingham said...

Why have 3 catchers on your roster and then not pinch hit all year for Olivo, who is streaky at best and who's bat is very slow right now. Amazing that Hillman thinks that they can remake players like Olivo and Jacobs, I think he's more concerned with kissing the behinds of his vets more than playing to win.

Ryan said...

or why have three catchers, and when facing a tough lefty, not have Buck DH, and Butler play first. It allows you to take Jacobs' lefty bat out of the line up.

3-4-5's were 1-12 today. 0-9, I believe vs. Pettitte.

I'm not sure why there wasn't a better stagger of L/R/L in the line up.

Instead of
Crisp
Aviles
DeJesus
Teahen
Gordon
Butler
Jacobs
Olivo
Callaspo

it could have been
Crisp
DeJesus
Aviles
Gordon
Butler
Teahen
Buck
Olivo
Callaspo

then you pinch hit Jacobs for your DH (Buck or Olivo) if they bring a righty out of the bullpen.

It's not like it's rocket science or anything. Vs. lefties, Jacobs had a .218BA and a .677 OPS last year. He was 2/5 with 1HR lifetime against Pettitte, but c'mon...you're gonna start him based on 5 ABs?

Derek said...

Ugh, I was actually hoping that Ponson would be a complete embarrasment out there. With him pitching a half-decent game they'll keep him around longer. I root for both Missouri teams, so I remember his stint with the Cardinals. He didn't pitch that bad to start with them a few years ago. Then he went back to being good ole crappy Sidney Ponson. Don't be fooled if he pitches decently to start the season, the REAL Ponson will show up.

Jared Launius said...

This offense is pathetically anemic.

Phil said...

And Horacio is stinking it up now too. Didn't see that coming. This isn't exactly the greatest Yankees lineup ever either.

Drewfuss said...

Ryan-

Those were my thoughts exactly as I watched the lineup be announced... No teahen tonight but Jacobs back in there to face sabathia...

Nathan said...

I wonder why Ramirez started tonight instead of Meche?

Hope Gordon is okay.

GeorgeM said...

Hey, the podcast is up on 810whb.com.

http://www.stationcaster.com/stations/whb/media/mpeg/Rany_on_Royals_4_9_09-1239502484.mp3

Antonio. said...

Why would it be a boost to Teahen to leave him in or a strike to move him to right? Having confidence is one thing, but completely ignoring that he's not the superior fielder is another. Is it impossible that a move to right would maybe serve as a motivator to continue to work on his defensive game at second? Is it possible that Teahen knows he's improving but is still a work in progress? A lead is too precious a thing to make it secondary to a secondary player's confidence.

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