(Thanks to reader “kctiger” for the title of this new column. “Score” as in 20, “Board” as in my analysis of where the Royals are at the moment.)
After the Cleveland Indians rendered this afternoon’s game the most anti-climactic home opener in Royals history, scoring seven runs before the Royals came to bat, the general consensus among fans was to blame Luke Hochevar for the full-on face plant.
That’s a reasonable first reaction. Hochevar did give up seven runs in the first inning, all of them earned. He allowed more runs in the first inning than the Royals had allowed in any of their six previous games. He allowed as many earned runs in the first inning as the Royals’ starters had allowed in the six previous games combined.
I’m not here to defend Hochevar. He was not sharp at all at the beginning of the game. He allowed eight hits in the inning. But let’s look at what happened in a little more detail:
Michael Brantley singled to center. This was a bloop single, a Texas Leaguer, not anything to get riled up about.
Asdrubal Cabrera doubled to deep right. This was a bad job by Hochevar – giving Cabrera a hittable pitch on a 1-2 count.
Shin-Soo Choo singled to right, Brantley and Cabrera scored. This is the turning point of the inning – Choo dribbled a ground ball to the right side, and Yuniesky Betancourt inexplicably was unable to move ten feet to his left to field the ball before it scooted past his outstretched glove.
You know how Alcides Escobar makes a fantastic play from deep in the hole and you have to rewind the play several times to figure out how he did it? This was the exact same thing, only the exact opposite – I had to watch the play over again just to figure how on God’s green earth Yuni didn’t get to this ground ball.
And on this one play, in the first inning of the first game at Kauffman Stadium this year, the concept that Betancourt might be a less atrocious defender at second base than he was at shortstop shattered. It was already fragile, mind you, but all spring long we heard the Royals make the claim that oh-my-God Betancourt is just such a good defender at second base, and we have to get him in the lineup, and you just wouldn’t believe the range he has at his new position.
And then he waves at a groundball that Frank White would have personally escorted to second base. I mean Frank White today. Rex Hudler could have come down from the announcer’s booth in his suit and tie and made that play.
Instead, it went for a two-run single, and the rest of the inning went downhill. If Yuni gets one out on that play, the inning ends with just two runs scoring. There’s no way to know what would have happened in subsequent innings; maybe Hochevar just keeps giving up line drives the next inning. But the arc of the game would have been completely different.
Carlos Santana struck out swinging. Shin-Soo Choo stole second base.
Travis Hafner grounded out to first. Choo advanced to third base.
Shelley Duncan singled to right. Choo scored.
This was one of the luckiest hits you’ll see all year. I’m serious. On an 0-1 count, Duncan was just trying to get out of the way of an up-and-in fastball, and somehow the ball hit the barrel of the bat – Duncan wasn’t even looking at the pitch as he tried to pirouette out of the way – at such an angle that it drifted over Eric Hosmer’s head and plopped down in no-man’s land down the right field line. It happens.
Casey Kotchman singled to right. Duncan advanced to second base.
Bad pitch. A hittable fastball on an 0-2 count.
Jason Kipnis tripled to deep center. Duncan and Kotchman scored.
The other brutally bad defensive play in the inning. Jarrod Dyson, who has played outstanding defense in his limited major-league playing time in the past, either completely misjudged the ball or completely misjudged the wind, allowing the ball to get over his head and land just out of his reach. This should have been the fourth out of the inning.
Jack Hannahan then singled, then Hochevar threw a wild pitch, then Brantley – who had one hit all season before the game – got his second hit of the inning, a double to cap the scoring. When Hochevar falls apart, he falls apart. That’s nothing new for him – his biggest weakness throughout his career has been his poor performance with runners on base compared to when the bases are empty.
But with a decent defense behind him, the Indians score two or three runs in that inning, and the Royals tie the game by the fourth inning. Dyson’s miscue was terrible, but it was also completely out of character for him. But while Dyson’s misplay was more obvious, it was Betancourt’s misplay that was inexcusable.
Not inexcusable for Betancourt himself – this is who he is. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an infielder who has more difficulty going to his left. (Hard to blame him – he is a Cuban defector, after all.) When he played shortstop, it was the groundball up the middle that he couldn’t reach – now it’s the groundball in the 4-3 hole. But again, we knew that going in. The Royals, inexplicably, did not. The Royals sent down Johnny Giavotella because of his defense, but somehow are convinced that playing Betancourt over Chris Getz – against a right-handed pitcher, mind you – makes perfect sense.
It does not. It has not. It will not. Yuniesky Betancourt is a defensive liability, the one liability on the field this afternoon, and if the Royals want to give their pitching staff the best possible defense, they need to stop with this charade.
Maybe it’s a good thing that this happened in the home opener, because the Royals have the Field f/x equipment installed at Kauffman Stadium now. I can only hope that when Mike Groopman and John Williams get the data for that play, they’ll react with the sort of urgent panic you’d expect from the army translator who just picked up some chatter that the Soviets are about to launch.
If Getz is in tomorrow’s lineup, we can hope that Jin Wong burst into Dayton Moore’s office early this evening with a printout in his hand and a look on his face that said, “I have bad news.” The Royals’ mystifying commitment to Betancourt has cost them enough games.