First Things Worst
Another bad first inning for Royals pitching put a game out of reach for an offense that continues to struggle.
This is probably going to shock you, but the Royals aren’t the worst team in baseball pitching in the first inning. Yes, they’ve allowed 84 runs, which is tied for fifth-most, but fifth-most isn’t most. Even so, the first inning has been a bit of a disaster for the Royals. They are now -20 in run differential in the first inning after Zack Greinke gave up three runs on five hits and almost didn’t finish the frame with 40 pitches thrown. Greinke himself had been one of the lone holdouts on the Royals staff who hadn’t struggled in the first. Prior to last night, he’d allowed five runs on 19 hits in the first inning this season, so to see him do what he did last night was a little surprising.
Some of it was the Twins just being the Twins. He gave up a leadoff single to Luis Arraez, who is not hitting 1.000 against the Royals this year, but I’d believe you if you said he was, on a check swing that Michael Massey couldn’t field cleanly because he had to come in so hard just to make it a play. On a 3-2 pitch to Carlos Correa, Greinke didn’t give in and left a changeup in the middle of the plate. Correa honestly had a defensive swing on the ball but it found a hole. It seemed like the damage would be limited after Jose Miranda grounded into a double play, but Greinke walked the next batter, Gio Urshela.
Thanks so much for reading Inside the Crown! If you haven’t subscribed already, I hope you will for free!
Well, four balls were called anyway.
That fourth pitch has to be one of the worst calls of the year, especially given that most umpires give the 3-0 auto strike on pitches that are slightly outside the zone. And especially when you consider that it was a pitcher with the career of Greinke against a player who doesn’t even come close to that career. Both the automatic strike on 3-0 and the favoring veterans is something that drives me nuts, but Greinke got neither of those benefits on a really good pitch. We will now never know what happens if Greinke gets a chance to get back into that count.
Maybe the game is entirely different. He had another 3-2 count against Nick Gordon and put a fastball up in the zone that Gordon hit to right field. It was in a good spot based on the scouting report. Coming into the game, Gordon had hit .158 with a .263 SLG on fastballs up this season. Greinke put a fastball in the top third of the zone and Gordon got his seventh hit in 39 at bats that ended on a pitch there. He’d whiffed on 25.6 percent of those pitches previously as well. It was the right pitch with the wrong result.
And I thought Greinke made a good pitch to Gary Sanchez putting a curve at the bottom of the zone that Sanchez hit 108.7 MPH to left to drive in two with a double. Sanchez came into the game with 4 hits in 28 at bats on curves and I thought the spot was good, but I guess it did lead Sanchez’s barrel right to the ball, so maybe it wasn’t the wisest pitch he could throw. But still, the damage was done and the Royals haven’t come back from three runs or more down all season still, which meant that unless they did something they hadn’t done in the previous 142 games, it was over before they got to their cleanup hitter.
The crazy thing is that after the first, Greinke was very good. He only lasted four, but he threw 41 pitches in those last three innings and walked just one batter as the only runner he allowed. I guess this game was an argument against caring about exit velocity. Greinke allowed one hard-hit ball out of 15 balls hit against him, but they turned that into three runs on five hits, which was enough.
And it was enough because the offense continued to hit at Target Field like Terry Bradshaw was still their hitting coach. Okay, that was probably mean, but as the broadcast pointed out, the Royals have played five games in Minneapolis in the last month or so and they’ve scored in two of the innings. That’s 43 scoreless innings out of 45 total. Overall, the Royals are 23-45 on the road, compared to 34-41 at home. Since the break, they’re 6-16 on the road and 15-14 at home. Against teams currently .500 or better, they’re 11-34 on the road, which means they’re 12-11 against sub-.500 teams on the road.
I’ve written before about how I’ve heard it both ways with young teams. Some of them are better at home because they’re familiar with their surroundings and more comfortable. Some of them are better on the road because there isn’t the pressure of home. Given that there isn’t much pressure at home for the Royals, it does stand to reason that a young team would be better at home due to the comfort. It’s really kind of unbelievable how much of a different team they are when they’re wearing gray pants compared to white.
Sometimes it really is the opposing pitcher, at least to some extent. Joe Ryan was outstanding on Tuesday night. Sonny Gray was great last night. And as much as his pitches move in a similar way to Brady Singer’s that get so many called strikes, I have to wonder at least some if the team isn’t fully in its own head about the struggles. Gray struck out eight batters in seven innings but only one batter struck out swinging. Those eight strikeouts are the most in a game this year by a starting pitcher with 10 or fewer whiffs.
Don’t get me wrong, those are some great pitches he threw, but that many called strikes, to me anyway, means the hitters are in their heads about things. At this point, I don’t know what the answer is other than let the season expire and clear the head over the winter. My thought is that as promising as this young offense has looked at times, they’d benefit from a veteran professional hitter in the middle. Is that Jose Abreu or Mitch Haniger or JD Martinez?
I don’t know, but I mentioned a couple of weeks ago the idea of signing a veteran to be able to move one of the young hitters for pitching, so they could kill two birds with one stone. I like the path they’re on offensively, but nights like this remind you how young they are and how a big bat in the middle that’s been there and done that and doesn’t swing at everything (hi Salvy) could be super beneficial to help complete this lineup.
I haven’t done these in awhile!
Carlos Hernandez, Relief Ace
Okay, it’s way too early to predict that, but there are times when Hernandez is in there as a reliever that you can’t help but dream on something big for him. Sure he gave up a run in his second inning of work, but that first inning was something to behold. He averaged 98.3 MPH with his fastball and was moving the ball all around the plate with some nasty movement on it as well. what I really like about Hernandez as a reliever is he has a bunch of pitches. What I think he needs to learn is that he doesn’t need to use them all, but they’re nice to have in his bag of tricks. Obviously, the fastball is important, but he needs to learn how to determine what pitches he has working while he’s in the bullpen warming up and use those.
That allows him to be a surprise just about every time to opposing hitters. Is today the day his slider is his number two? Is it his splitter or his curve or a changeup? He’s got them all. I mentioned on Twitter to the excellent Royals Farm Report that I’ll reserve any judgment on if he can be a consistent contributor until I know who is on the coaching staff, but I think it’s fair to say that he’s talented enough that the right instruction could lead him to being a dominant reliever if someone can just coax out any kind of consistency. His 2023 is big for him. I think he’s a reliever now, and I think he needs to show that he can be a guy at the back end of a bullpen next year.
Bobby Witt Jr. doubled for the fourth consecutive game last night. He now has 27 doubles, which is tied for eighth-most in team history for a rookie, but he’s just four away from holding fourth place all by his lonesome. These are some totally selective stats to fit a narrative, but he’s just the eighth rookie ever to have 20+ homers, 27+ doubles and 27+ stolen bases, joining Devon White, Ellis Burks, Chris Young, Mitchell Page, Tommie Agee, Carlos Beltran and some guy named Mike Trout. Make it a more traditional 20/20/20 and there are still only 13 total, adding Nomar Garciaparra, Randy Arozarena, Marty Cordova, Andrew Benintendi and Julio Rodriguez.
I wish he’d swing the bat less. I think Witt is doing this on full-on talent right now because his pitch selection leaves plenty to be desired, but as I’ve said before, I belive so much in the person doing the work that I think he’ll come back next year with a different approach at the plate. Because if he starts taking pitches he should be taking, the Royals will have an absolute monster on their hands, especially with slightly less ground to cover on stolen bases. He might hit 30 bombs and steal 50 bags next season.