Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Omaha Baseball 360

If you've been following my coverage of the Omaha Royals at Examiner.com, then you might be interested to know that I've just launched a new website called OmahaBaseball360.com where I'll be covering the Omaha Storm Chasers from here on out. I'll be posting interviews, pictures and videos. Stop by for a visit, offer an opinion and/or subscribe.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Change of Focus

I started this blog six seasons ago. Things were so different then. Most people still hadn’t even heard about blogs. Tony Pena was the manager of the Royals. And Mike Sweeney was still wearing Royal blue.

As the seasons have rolled by, several great Royals blogs have joined the blogosphere, and I’ve been noticing a trend with most of them—they evaluate baseball through the sabermetrics lens. As I’ve told a lot of you, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. In fact, if Dayton Moore had his guys dig a little deeper into statistics, he probably wouldn’t have made so many mistakes when acquiring new personnel. But I’m a story guy, cut from the old sportswriter cloth. The difference is, I don’t look down on sabermetrics. I just am not drawn to learning more about them.

Since so many great Royals fans are already into them, and since they are receiving tons of great information on the various Royals blogs, I’ve come to the conclusion that Royal Reflections isn’t all that necessary any more. The lack of growth in visitors and comments bear witness to this fact. And, really, when a blog isn’t necessary, it probably should fade peacefully into the night. I’m about 99% there right now, but not only because the blog is becoming unnecessary.

Some of you know I’ve been writing about the Omaha Royals at Examiner.com for the past year. I’ve been told I’ll be credentialed again for the 2010 Omaha Royals season. It just makes more sense to focus my attention there. And I’m hoping that as I do, you’ll find relevant content to link to, comment about, and discuss. As with most other online endeavors, this one is dependent upon readership.

So, if you are interested in keeping up with the Omaha Royals, visit my page at Examiner.com. Or better yet, subscribe to my articles via email or RSS feed. You’ll find the “Subscribe” and RSS Feed button on the top right hand side of the page.

I don’t plan to delete Royal Reflections. There’s too much history here. And, there’s always the chance that I’ll want to come back in the future. And I just might. Thank you to those of you who have visited this blog, sent me email, left comments, and invited me on your podcasts. I hope you’ll continue to do all of those things while I’m covering the Omaha Royals at Examiner.com.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A full outfield

Like most of the other moves Dayton Moore has made this off season, I’m neither overly excited nor overly critical of his decision to sign Rick Ankiel.

But I’m an confused.

Kansas City Royals vs St. Louis Cardinals
If Ankiel was the outfielder he wanted for the 2010 season to fill the gap until a guy like Jordan Parraz or Jarrod Dyson is ready, then signing Ankiel makes sense if he hadn’t already signed Brian Anderson and Scott

But he did sign them.

The Royals now have seven outfielders on the 40-man roster. Throw in the fact that Josh Fields and Willie Bloomquist are likely to play a little outfield as well and you have nine guys who could see time out there.

Mitch Maier and Jose Guillen may be the odd men out. That would make more sense, although I do wonder if parting ways with Maier so quickly might be a mistake – especially since the Royals don’t really seem to be in a position to content for 2010 and therefore have little to lose by giving him playing time.

I’m guessing that David DeJesus, Rick Ankiel and Scott Podsednik will be the starting outfielders to begin the 2010 season. Defensively that would seem to be an improvement over DeJesus, Maier and Guillen. But I don’t know what to expect offensively from Ankiel, who had a down year in 2009, and Podsednik who is about to turn 34.

I still say, however, that if this revamped roster is considerably better defensively than in 2009, I’m okay with less offense, even though it’s hard to imagine less offense.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Royals Blogosphere

There are lots of great conversations going around in the Royals blogosphere, including:

I’m sure I’m missing a few, but I think it’s pretty cool to see so many people talking about Royals baseball in the middle of January.

I’ve fallen behind on the reliving Zack Greinke’s 2009 season series. Writing those posts takes a ton of time, and I’m having a blast doing it, but there hasn’t been a single comment on any of them. Does that mean you aren’t enjoying them? If so, I won’t be offended. Just let me know one way or the other if you’d like to see the series continue or not.

Jose Offerman throws a punch at an umpire

Have you seen the bizarre video of former Royal Jose Offerman throwing a punch at an umpire (looks like he missed -- but it is still ridiculous behavior) in a Dominican Winter League game the other day?

ESPN is saying he hit an opposing player in the head with a bat a couple of years ago in an independent minor league game. I hadn’t heard that before. Why in the world was he allowed back on any field after that?

Monday, January 18, 2010

2010 Royals Caravan stop in Omaha

The Royals Caravan stopped in Omaha today. Alex Gordon, Willie Bloomquist and Willie Wilson signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans. I covered the event for Examiner.com. Here's a link to the story.

And here are some photos I took [pay special attention to fourth photo from the bottom -- Gordon and Bloomquist apparently created signs for each other], followed by a video interview I shot with Willie Wilson:

I shot this video interview with Willie Wilson. It's a little wobbly. Sorry about that. Ross Jernstrom, from WOWT-Channel 6 in Omaha, and I are the two people you hear asking the questions:

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Zack Greinke: Start 5 of 33 in 2009

Royal Reflections is reliving all 33 of Zack Greinke’s 2009 starts in addition to his All-Star game appearance as we head into Spring Training 2010.

Game Date: April 29, 2009  
Toronto @ Kansas City 
Royals 11, Blue Jays 3 / Box Score
WP: Greinke (5-0) LP: Tallet (3-3)


Since Zack Greinke’s last start on April 24, we’ve learned that he’s going to be on the cover of SI next week, which sends an odd feeling through Kansas City because we are not accustomed to such things. It's been a while. But Royals fans can’t stop smiling – even if it has been raining for hours in Kansas City and Greinke’s fifth start of the season has been delayed by 31 minutes.

The temperature is 61 degrees at game time and there is almost no wind – 2 mph, blowing in from right field. Only 10,619 fans have shown up at Kauffman Stadium with bad weather in the area. Zack is 1-3 against the Blue Jays in his career coming into the game with a 5.12 ERA. He hasn’t defeated the Blue Jays since April, 2007.

But this isn’t the same Zack Greinke. He still hasn’t give up an earned run yet this season.

Marco Scutaro leads off the game with a ball in the gap to right center field. Coco Crisp fields it in the wet grass and Scutaro ends up at second base. Greinke gets ahead of Aaron Hill 1-2 and he throws an off speed pitch that Hill swings and misses for the first out of the inning. Alex Rios comes up next. Greinke starts him with a slider that Rios watches for strike one. Then he brings the heat on the outside corner and Rios can’t check his swing, strike two.

Greinke is a little fidgety so far this evening. He seems to be processing. The Blue Jays are aggressive with Greinke’s fastball so he’s making adjustments by changing speeds 

After three more pitches, Greinke goes down and in with an off speed pitch and gets Rios to swing rather meekly and Greinke has his second strike out. Vernon Wells takes strike one looking – a slow curve. Greinke throws an 85 mph pitch that Wells swings and misses. When the count runs to 2-2, Miguel Olivo goes out to talk to Greinke. Greinke comes at Wells with a slider, which Wells dumps into center field to drive in Scutaro. Blue Jays lead 1-0. That is Greinke’s first earned run of the season.

Blue Jays vs. Royals
[An ERA of 0.30 is displayed following Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Zack Greinke's giving up an RBI single to the Toronto Blue Jays' Vernon Wells during the game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, Wednesday, April 29, 2009. The earned run broke a six game streak for Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Zack Greinke of not allowing an earned run. (John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/MCT) Photo via Newscom Photo via Newscom / Content © 2010 Newscom All rights reserved.]
Greinke doesn’t seem phased though. He gets ahead of Adam Lind 0-2. A few Royals’ fans begin to change, “Let’s go Royals!” Greinke strikes out Lind looking and the inning is finally over.

The Royals go down in order in the bottom of the first inning.

Scott Rolen leads off the second inning and Greinke strikes him out swinging with an off speed pitch. Lyle Overbay lofts a lazy fly ball to center field for out number two. Rod Barajas gets a 1-1 pitch he likes and he doubles down the left field line, actually landing on the line. Willie Bloomquist is playing left field. He tosses the ball back into the infield. But Greinke gets Travis Snider to pop up a change up and the inning is over.

With one out in the Royals’ half of the inning, Billy Butler gets a pitch on the outside corner and he goes with it, launching it to right center field. It clears the wall to tie the game 1-1.

In the third inning, Greinke continues to depend on his off speed stuff, knowing that the Blue Jays are hacking at his fastball. He walks Scutaro to lead off the inning and Aaron Hill bloops a single to center and the Blue Jays have runners at the corners with no outs. Greinke gets Rios to hit a ground ball to Mark Teahen at third base. Teahen allows Scutaro to score as he tries to turn two. The Royals get two and Wells grounds out to Teahen to end the inning. The Blue Jays lead 2-1.

Butler doubles in two runs in the third inning and Mike Jacobs singles in Butler. The Royals lead 4-2 after three innings.

Greinke walks Lind to start the inning and falls behind Scott Rollen 2-0 before getting him to fly out to left. Greinke gets out of the inning, getting Overbay to ground into a fielder’s choice and Barajas to pop out to short.

In the bottom of the fourth, Willie Bloomquist walks with two outs and Teahen crushes the first pitch he sees to center field for a two-run home run. It’s his third home run of the season. The Royals now lead 6-2.

Snider leads off the fifth inning and Greinke strikes him out swinging for his fifth strike out of the game. Scutaro flies out to right. Greinke’s trying to work his first 1-2-3 inning of the night, but Hill singles to left field with two outs. Greinke strikes out Rios though to end the inning.

In the bottom of the fifth, Butler homers to left, Aviles triples in two runs and Aviles scores on a passed ball. The Royals lead 10-2 and Greinke is on his way to winning his fifth consecutive start.

Greinke doesn’t give up any more hits over the next two innings and Hillman removes him from the game after the seventh inning.

The Royals go on to win rather easily, improving to 11-10 on the season.

What Greinke said:
“I will take it every start,” Greinke said. “Even today. I mean, it’s a win. We all played well, which is kind of important. The whole team is starting to play a little better lately. It was just a great all-round game.
“Yeah, they scored two runs, but they’re going to score runs.”
What players/managers said:
“He was able to throw every pitch for a strike,” Vernon Wells said. “He keeps you off balance. He’ll blow you away with a 95 [mph] if he wants to. He was dominant, as he has been all year.”
What bloggers said:
“I've said it before, but I almost can’t believe that this guy is a Royal. He’s probably the best baseball player on the planet right now and he’s ours. Evidently Zack’s upcoming SI appearance resonated with many of you for perhaps the same reason. Tonight, Greinke was Greinkean (7 IP: 5 Hs, 2 BBs & 8Ks) and improved to a media-important 5-0 on the year. I can’t wait for a interleague play, because you know Zack has a game in him in which he’ll pitch great for eight innings, and go 2-3 with a homer. It's going to happen.” (Royals Review)

“Going back to last season, Greinke has actually won eight starts in a row. This ties a franchise record previously accomplished by three pitchers: David Cone in his Cy Young season of 1994, Bret Saberhagen in his Cy Young season of 1989 … and Rich Gale in his decidedly un-Cy Young season of 1980. (I should point out that Saberhagen won eight straight starts from July 26th to August 31st that year … and then won six straight starts from September 9th to September 30th. Saberhagen won 14 games in 15 starts – not 15 decisions, 15 starts – with a 1.52 ERA over that span. I don’t know if Greinke is pitching better than anyone in a Royals uniform ever has – but at least I know who set the bar he’s trying to clear.)” (Rany on the Royals)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Q & A with Omaha Royals' GM Martie Cordaro

Martie Cordaro, vice president and general manager of the Omaha Royals, recently made time for an email interview with me for Examiner.com.

One of the questions I asked him was, "As you know, many fans of the Kansas City Royals are frustrated with what they perceive as a misuse of Omaha as a Triple-A affiliate. They view it as a place in which 28-32 year old players who aren't good enough to play in the majors are banished, rather than a proving ground for good young talent. What is your take on that view? Does Dayton Moore just need a couple of more years to stock the minor league affiliates with more talent?"

Here was his response:
We are anticipating the arrival of the past three drafts of KC Royals players beginning with a few of them in 2010. Stock-piling and building an organization takes time and we have all the confidence in the world in the direction that Dayton Moore is taking in Kansas City.
Check out the rest of the Q & A if you get a chance. His answers will give you some insight into the way he handles his everyday duties, his thoughts about the current roster, the transition from Rosenblatt Stadium to the new ballpark and he answers a couple of questions about some of the activities he enjoys.

Photo: Courtesy of the Omaha Royals

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Zack Greinke: Start 4 of 33 in 2009

Royal Reflections is reliving all 33 of Zack Greinke’s 2009 starts in addition to his All-Star game appearance as we head into Spring Training 2010.

Game Date: April 24, 2009  
Detroit @ Kansas City 
Royals 6, Tigers 1 / Box Score
WP: Greinke (4-0) LP: Porcello (1-2)


Zack Greinke is off to a 3-0 start and he still has not allowed an earned run. Kauffman Stadium in nearly full -- 36,363 have packed the stands. Greinke seems oblivious, saying this afterward: “I don’t know why there were so many people here today. I know it was fireworks night, and I guess there was a (Buck Night) giveaway.”

The truth is, there’s a murmur in the crowd, and in Kansas City. People are beginning to wonder if this might be the beginning of something special for Greinke. He has just been named the co-American League Player of the Week. He enters this game with a 34 consecutive scoreless innings streak. Will it continue?

The wind is blasting out of Kauffman Stadium to left field, gusting as high as 38-40 mph as the game begins. The temperature is 79 degrees – much warmer than Greinke’s last start at home on April 13 when the game time temperature was 43 degrees.

[ Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Zack Greinke (23) throws in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers on Friday, April 24, 2009, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/MCT) Photo via Newscom Photo via Newscom / Content © 2010 Newscom All rights reserved.]
Curtis Granderson leads off the game for Detroit. Greinke works him inside, then outside. When the counts gets to 2-2, Granderson fouls a couple of pitches off and then Greinke throws a change up that fools Granderson, who swings and misses for Greinke’s first strike out of the game. Placido Polanco singles up the middle. Up comes Magglio Ordonez who has a career batting average against Greinke of just .148. He reaches for an off speed pitch and pops up meekly to Alberto Callaspo at send base. Greinke throws a fastball on the outside of the plate at the knees to Miguel Cabrera for strike one and then gets him to hit into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.

In the bottom of the first, Coco Crisp reaches on an infield single and two hitters later, Mark Teahen comes to the plate. Denny Matthews says, “If Teahen can get a hit, Coco Crisp can score – that figures to be enough runs for Greinke.” On cue, Teahen gets a 1-1 pitch to his liking and he launches it to left field. With the wind blowing out to left, it’s a no-doubter. Gone. The Royals lead 2-0. 

In the top of the second inning, Greinke gets ahead of Carlos Guillen 0-2. Two pitches later Greinke buries an off speed pitch that Guillen swings and misses. Strike out number two for Greinke. Gerald Laird singles to right field. Then Greinke walks Brandon Inge. A hit will end Greinke’s streak. But he gets Josh Anderson to ground into a 4-6-3 double play and the threat is over.

Alberto Callaspo leads off the bottom of the second and hits a 1-0 fly ball to right field. Ordonez moves back to make the catch, but the ball keeps carrying. The wind, even though it is mostly blowing to left field, pushes the ball over the fence and the Royals lead 3-0. It is Callaspo’s first Major League home run. He had 441 previous at bats at the big league level without a home run.

In the third inning, Greinke gets Ramon Santiago to hit a little flare to right center field. Mitch Maier slides and makes a nice catch. The crowd cheers. Granderson flies out to left field. And Polanco lines out to third. It’s a 9-pitch inning for Greinke and his first without allowing a hit. The streak has reached 37.

The Royals go in order quickly to end the third.

Greinke falls behind Ordonez in the fourth inning but he gets him to hit a comebacker to the mound. Greinke is settled in. His fastball has more zip that usual. He throws a 97 mph fastball to Cabrera with the count 1-2 and he misses with it, but you don’t get the feeling that he’s overthrowing. His fastball is just has a little extra on it tonight. He strikes out Cabrera swinging for his third strikeout of the evening. Guillen flies out to center and Greinke’s streak has reached 38 innings.

The Royals go in order in the fourth.

Laird falls behind Greinke 1-2 in the fifth, but Greinke hangs an off speed pitch and Laird drives the ball down the left field line. DeJesus plays the ball well, sliding to cut it off and he comes up throwing. It’s close at second, but Laird beats the throw. Greinke doesn’t seem phased. He throws two strikes to Inge that Inge just watches. A couple of pitches later, Greinke comes at him with a fastball up and away and Inge doesn’t have a chance as he swings and misses to become Greinke’s fourth strikeout victim. Greinke begins to work a little slower now and falls behind Josh Anderson 3-0. Miguel Olivo goes out to talk to Greinke. He eventually gets Anderson to line out to center for the second out of the inning. Laird moves up to third, but the throw from Aviles (the cut off man) hits Laird as he slides into third and gets away from Teahen. Greinke is backing up the play. He retrieves the ball and fires home, Laird is safe at home.

“It happens, that’s baseball,” Greinke says afterward. “It’s aggressive baserunning, aggressive fielding and it’s just baseball. You can’t predict anything. I got out of jams I shouldn’t have got out of, and then they score on a ball that maybe they shouldn’t have scored on. It evens out at the end.”

The streak ends at 38 innings.

Royals fans begin to applaud – quietly at first, then they begin to roar – to acknowledge Greinke’s streak. Greinke gets out of the inning on the next pitch. Now the real work begins. How will Greinke respond after giving up a run? It’s not an earned run, but it’s still a run and the Tigers are a bloop and blast from tying the game.

Not for long though.

In the bottom of the fifth inning, with Olivo on second base and Maier on first, Rick Porcello uncorks a wild pitch – his second of the inning – and the Royals have runners at second and third with one out. The Tigers bring their infield in. Crisp his a ground the ball to Cabrera at first base who makes a poor throw home, allowing Olivo and Maier to score. The Royals lead 5-1.

Greinke mows the Tigers down in the sixth inning in nine pitches.

The Royals get a man on in the sixth when Billy Butler draws a four-pitch walk, but they don’t score.

In the top of the seventh, Greinke strikes out Cabrera and Guillen swinging. He’s still throwing hard, 94 mph, and his control is getting better. He gets ahead of Laird 0-2 and Laird tries to lay down a bunt, but Olivo makes a nice grab in foul territory and the inning is over.

The Royals score a run in the seventh inning and increase their lead to 6-1. The Tigers don’t really stand much of a chance at this point. Greinke seems to be hitting his stride.

In the top of the eighth, Matthews begins to talk about Greinke saying he is “one of those streaks” that make you think about Don Drysdale and Orel Hershiser. And the way he’s completely overmatching big league lineups he says it makes you think of Tom Seaver, Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Matthews says. “I’m not comparing Greinke to any of those guys –  not yet – this is only his fourth start, but he is in one of those streaks that would be mindful of that type of pitching. He’s always had excellent stuff, and to a degree, he’s always had good command, but now it’s almost perfect. He has great confidence, he has a great feel for pitching, and he has everything going his way.”

Greinke strikes out Inge swinging as Matthews is talking. Then he strikes out Anderson and Santiago. Inning over.

The Royals get a runner on base in the eighth, but are unable to score.

Coming into the ninth, Greinke has retired 12 straight and he’s struck out five of the last six hitters he’s faced. Greinke picks up his tenth strikeout of the game to start the inning when he gets Granderson swinging. He jumps ahead of Polanco 0-2 before getting him to hit a little dinker out in front of the plate. Greinke throws him out for out number two. The crowd begins to chant “Let’s go Royals!” Greinke makes quick work of Ordonez, getting him to ground out to Butler at first and the game is over.

In four starts, Greinke still hasn’t given up an earned run. After the game, Royals fans could be heard shouting “Cy Young” and it doesn’t sound crazy. He has 29 starts to go, but this doesn’t look like a fluke. It doesn’t feel like a fluke. In fact, it prompts Bob Dutton to lead his article in the Star by asking this question: “Is this the night, after more than a generation, that baseball truly became relevant again in Kansas City? Maybe. Just maybe.”

What Greinke said:
“There was a real atmosphere here today,” Greinke said. “There probably couldn’t have been a better night.”
What players/managers said:
“He’s got such good stuff,” Tigers catcher Gerald Laird said. “You could tell the last couple of innings he kind of just turned it on. He sniffed that complete game, and that’s what the good ones do.”
“It’s fun to watch,” third baseman Mark Teahen said. “Tonight, more than anything — maybe it was just the energy or whatever — but he looked unhittable.”
What bloggers said:
“ … but the bigger story isn't whether or not Greinke should be a bigger story, but the mere baseball side of it. And the baseball side of it is pretty simple: Greinke is one of the best starters in baseball right now, so we can stop waiting for him to arrive. He's here.” (Royals Review)
“So, after four starts, his ERA sits at 0.00. After four starts, he has struck out 36 in 29 innings of work. His WHIP, if my calculations are correct, is 0.86. He is 4-0. And in this young season, he is the early front-runner for the AL Cy Young.” (Royalscentricity)

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Royals sign Scott Podsednik

The Royals signed Scott Podsednik to a one-year deal for $1.75 million with an option for 2011 (it’s a club option if Pod has less than 550 plate appearances and a mutual option if he hits that number).

White Sox vs. Cubs
[The Chicago White Sox's Scott Podsednik scores in the ninth inning against the Chicago Cubs. The White Sox defeated the Cubs, 5-0, at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois, Thursday, September 3, 2009. (Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune/MCT) Photo via Newscom / Content © 2010 Newscom All rights reserved.]
The 33-year-old, who will be 34 by the time the 2010 season begins, will hit leadoff and probably play center field – although Dayton Moore is leaving the door open for him to play left field, which would require moving David DeJesus back to center. I think that would be a bad decision after the way DeJesus played in left field last season.

I don’t have a huge issue with this signing, but I don’t really understand why Moore signed both Brian Anderson and Podsednik while also having Mitch Maier in the system. Podsednik had a solid season in Chicago last season, posting a .353 OBP, good for 14th in the AL among outfielders.

But the truth is, 2009 was Podsednik’s best season since his rookie season in 2003. He’s about to turn 34. He doesn’t steal as many bases as he used to (30 last season). And you have to wonder if his numbers from last season are repeatable. If he reverts to the numbers he put up in 2008 (.253/.322/.333) or 2007 (.243/.299/.369), he’ll end up being another in a growing list of light hitting outfielders on the Royals’ roster.

It’s understandable why Moore wanted to dismantle the 2009 roster – it was abysmal. But I’m not convinced that the moves he has made to acquire Jason Kendall, Chris Getz, Josh Fields, Anderson and Podsednik is better, offensively speaking, than Miguel Olivo, Mark Teahen, Alex Gordon, Alberto Callaspo and Coco Crisp/Mitch Maier – especially since Getz and Fields may not even be everyday players (assuming Alex Gordon and Callaspo hold on to their positions this spring).

And where does Mike Aviles fit into this mix? Assuming that Yuniesky Betancourt is the starting shortstop, and assuming that second and third base are covered, does Aviles become the 2010 version of TPJ who rarely sees playing time?

Last season Moore appealed to Royals fans asking them to “trust the process” as his acquisitions work their way through the minor leagues and eventually to Kansas City. Even so, maybe he learned that he didn’t give defense a high enough priority at the Major League level while trying to piece together a roster until his players arrive.

I have no idea how Kendall, Getz, Fields, Anderson and Podsednik match up defensively against Olivo, Teahen, Gordon, Callaspo and Crisp/Maier. I only know that Olivo, Gordon and Callaspo were not good defensively last season. In fact, at times, you wondered if the team could possibly be any worse defensively.

Will the moves Moore has made so far this off season make the team better defensively? I don’t know. But if they are considerably better, then I might be willing to tolerate an even lighter hitting team in 2010 with the expectation/hope that things will be different in 2011 and 2012.

But if they aren’t considerably better defensively, then Moore has assembled a roster that might be even harder to watch in 2010 than the 2009 version.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Talking baseball with Ryan McGee

The Road to Omaha: Hits, Hopes, and History at the College World SeriesYesterday I had a chance to interview Ryan McGee, a senior writer for ESPN the Magazine and the author of “The Road to Omaha: Hits, Hopes, and History at the College World Series,” published by Thomas Dunne Books in 2008. He told me some great stores about the College World Series. Here's one of them:

"A former Miami Hurricane bat girl from the 1980s sent me the most unbelievable note," McGee said "and told me that Coach Ron Fraser – the great coach who built the Miami program in the 70s and 80s – has been very sick, really for the last year, and when the book came out last spring, the former Miami Hurricane bat girls took turns sitting by Coach Fraser's bed reading the book out loud to him. When I hear things like that it just absolutely takes me aback."

We also talked about the Omaha Royals, the Omaha area in general, Rosenblatt Stadium and the new stadium. Here's a link to the Q & A if you are interested.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Zack Greinke: Start 3 of 33 in 2009

Royal Reflections is reliving all 33 of Zack Greinke’s 2009 starts in addition to his All-Star game appearance as we head into Spring Training 2010.

Game Date: April 18, 2009  
Kansas City @ Texas 
Royals 2, Rangers 0 / Box Score
WP: Greinke (3-0) LP: Millwood (1-1)


It’s Josh Hamilton Jersey Night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.  After the game, Jack Ingram will perform in concert. More than 37,000 people have shown up for the game that pits Kevin Millwood against Zack Greinke. The temperature is 73 degrees at game time. The stage is set for Ranger fans to enjoy what they are hoping is win.

Greinke enters the game with a 25 consecutive scoreless innings streak. He is 2-3 against the Rangers in his career with a 3.51 ERA in nine appearances, seven of which were starts. His control hasn’t been the greatest in his first two starts of the season. Will this be the night he finds it?

The Royals go down in order in the first inning.

Greinke comes out in the first throwing strikes, getting ahead of Ian Kinsler before he flies out to center. He gets ahead of Michael Young 1-2 before getting him to hit a ball back to mound. He gets ahead of Josh Hamilton 1-2 before striking him out swinging on a breaking pitch.

This doesn’t look like the Greinke we’ve seen so far this year. He’s been good, but not like this. In the first inning, he throws 10 pitches; 8 of are strikes.

The Royals get something going in the second inning. Billy Butler and Mark Teahen draw four pitch walks. Mike Jacobs flies out to right field and Alberto Callaspo singles to center, but Butler can’t score. Miguel Olivo comes up with a chance to do some damage, but he goes after the first pitch and flies out to center. Willie Bloomquist grounds out to end the inning and the threat is over.

Hank Blalock leads off the second inning against Greinke. Greinke throws an off speed pitch for strike one looking. Then he throws a 91 mph that Blalock fouls back. On the 0-2 pitch, Blalock sends a shot to right center. Coco Crisp dives, gets some leather on the ball and it squirts out of his glove. Blalock pulls up at third with a triple.

So long consecutive scoreless streak, right?

Not so fast.

Greinke gets Marlon Byrd to ground out to Mark Teahen at third base. He falls behind Nelson Cruz 3-0. The next pitch is a fastball at the knees that Cruz watches for a strike. The 3-1 pitch is 93 mph fastball that Cruz swings and misses. Greinke deals and strikes out Cruz swinging. Next up, Chris Davis. Greinke throws a 94 mph fastball that Davis fouls off. After Greinke missing with a fastball, Davis fouls off an off speed pitch.

Greinke brings the 1-2 pitch home and Davis swings and misses. Miguel Olivo drops the ball, but picks it up and tosses it to Billy Butler at first base. Inning, and threat, over. The streak continues.

Millwood keeps the Royals scoreless in the third inning.

Greinke enters the third after throwing 25 pitches in the first two innings. Jarrod Saltalamacchia leads off the inning and he takes the first pitch high for a ball. He lines the next pitch into the gap in right center field for a double. Elvis Andrus, the number nine hitter, lays down a sacrifice bunt and moves Saltalamacchia to third. Up comes Ian Kinsler with a chance to give the Rangers a lead. Kinsler is red hot, 12-for-20 on the home stand. Greinke gets ahead of him 0-2. Kinsler takes a ball and then fouls off two pitches. Greinke goes down and away to Kinsler, who tries to check his swing, but he’s rung up for the strikeout. Michael Young grounds out to second and Greinke is out of the inning.

The Royals go down in order in the fourth.

Josh Hamilton leads off the fourth inning. Greinke gets ahead of him 0-2 and then drops a 60 mph curve ball on him. It’s outside. Hamilton doesn’t bite. I used to get nervous when Greinke started tossing 60 mph curve balls toward the plate because he often did it just to look cool. But you start to get the feeling that there’s purpose behind it now. Greinke throws Hamilton an 84 mph slider and Hamilton swings and misses for Greinke’s fifth strike out of the game. There’s the purpose. Blalock singles to right, but Greinke comes back and strikes out Byrd. Going back in the Twitter archives, I described it this way: “Greinke set up Marlon Byrd and struck him out looking with a 3-2 93 mph fastball on the outside corner.” Ranger fans boo the call and you can understand their frustration. Cruz comes up and grounds into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.

The consecutive scoreless inning streak stands at 29, and counting.

The Royals make a little noise in the fifth inning after Callaspo singles to lead off, but nothing comes of it.

In the bottom of the fifth, Davis hits a little comebacker to the mound. Greinke handles it. Saltalamacchia falls behind Greinke 1-2 and then strikes out swinging on a curve ball in the dirt – Greinke’s seventh strikeout of the game. Andrus singles to center on the first pitch. Kinsler is up with two outs and a runner on first. Greinke throws over to first a couple of times and fans boo again. Finally, Greinke throws a 2-2, 93 mph fastball to Kinsler who swings and misses for Greinke’s eight strikeout.

To the sixth inning we go, locked in an old fashioned pitcher’s duel.

Crisp walks to lead off the inning. Three hitters later, Billy Butler drills a 2-0, two-out pitch down the left field line to drive in Crisp. It’s Butler’s birthday, but he’s the one delivering gifts. The Royals lead 1-0.

Young singles to lead off the inning for Texas. Hamilton flies out to center on the first pitch, Blalock flies out to left on the second pitch and Byrd pops out to second on the first pitch. It’s a five pitch inning for Greinke.

Olivo goes deep in the seventh inning – a line drive that barely clears the left field wall. It’s his first home run and RBI of the season. The Royals lead 2-0.

Greinke takes the mound for the seventh inning, his confidence apparently getting a boost from the combination of his repeated ability to work around base runners and the 2-0 lead the Royals have given him. He starts the inning by throwing a 66 mph curve for a called strike to Cruz. Then he tosses a 61 mph curve that Cruz flails at and misses. At this point, Cruz must be hoping to just make contact. He does, a foul ball down the right field line that Mitch Maier, who just entered the game to start the inning, catches for an out. Davis comes up and Greinke begins to pump up the velocity – going 94 mph on one fastball and then throwing a slider. He gets Davis to swing and miss a fastball for his ninth strikeout. Saltalamacchia grounds out to end the inning.

This feels like a turning point in the game. Greinke is in complete control, doing anything he wants to do. The only question now seems to be whether he’ll get the complete game shutout.
The Royals go down in order in the eighth inning.

Greinke gets Andrus to ground out in the bottom of the eighth. Kinsler singles and Hillman makes a call to the bullpen to get Joakim Soria up – justifiably so – because Hamilton is due up in two hitters. Soria begins to get loose as Greinke faces Young. Young crushes a hooking line drive to left field and DeJesus squeezes it for out number two. Greinke goes high with ball one to Hamilton. He fools Hamilton on the second pitch and Hamilton swings and misses. On the third pitch of the AB, Hamilton lifts a fly to center and the inning is over.

The Royals go down in order in the ninth inning.

Will Hillman send Greinke out? He’s at 96 pitches (66 strikes). On Twitter, I make the rather astute observation, “Soria looks like he’s staying put.”

And here comes Greinke.

Greinke gets ahead of Blalock 0-2 before getting him to ground out to second. He gets Byrd to hit a comebacker to the mound. Two outs. Nelson Cruz comes to the plate and after falling behind 1-2, he singles to left. Greinke has thrown 106 pitches at this point, but his velocity is still good. Soria is warm. Hillman walks out of the dugout and meets with Greinke and the infielders at the mound. Greinke apparently convinces Hillman that he has something for Davis. Greinke gets ahead of him 1-2. During the AB, Cruz moves to second base on fielder’s indifference.

“Let’s go Dav-is,” the crowd begins to chant repeatedly.

Andruw Jones comes out on deck to possibly pinch hit for Saltalamacchia if Davis reaches.

Greinke uncorks a wild pitch to Davis and Cruz moves up to third base. Greinke gets a new ball and begins to rub it.

He fires the 2-2 pitch, a called strike, and the game is over.

Greinke completes the shutout; the first of his career, and he runs his consecutive scoreless inning streak to 34.

What Greinke said:
“That kind of blew me away,” Greinke said when someone told him about Orel Hershiser’s record 59-inning scoreless streak after the game. “It’s just about impossible to get to 34 nowadays. Fifty-nine, that’s impossible. I would have been happy with 20.”
What players/managers said:
“It was tough. It was one of those nights,” Kevin Millwood said. “You’ve just got to tip your hat to him.”
What other people said:
“Is there any better pitcher right now than Zack Greinke?” Bob Dutton said to lead the story he filed for the game. “Anyone? Anywhere? How much better could anyone be than Greinke on Saturday night against the Texas Rangers?”
“The answer is no,” said someone who left a comment on the story. “There is no one better right now and after two decades, MLB has returned to KC.”
What bloggers said:
“The pro writers will have an eloquent way of saying this in their reports … ‘Greinke was friggin awesome!’ I mean what else needs to be said really? He dominated the game totally – we looked mostly stupid at the plate.” (Rangerfans.com)
“And as much as I mock Trey I do have to give him some props for letting Greinke go the distance. I’m sure somewhere somebody was screaming about his pitch count and how Soria was fresh but you know what sometimes you got to let a guy finish his masterpiece.” (Royally Speaking)

Monday, January 04, 2010

Zack Greinke: Start 2 of 33 in 2009

Royal Reflections is reliving all 33 of Zack Greinke’s 2009 starts in addition to his All-Star game appearance as we head into Spring Training 2010.

Game Date: April 13, 2009  
Cleveland @ Kansas City
Royals 4, Indians 2 / Box Score
WP: Greinke (2-0) LP: Carmona (0-2), SV: Soria (4)


Entering the game, Zack Greinke had a streak of 20 scoreless innings that stretched back to the end of the 2008 season. He pitched well in his first start of 2009, but his control wasn’t great. Would his scoreless innings streak finally come to an end?

The temperature was 43 degrees at game time, making it one of those typical April games in Kauffman Stadium in which you better have a coat and some hot chocolate to sip on.

Greinke took the mound and struck out Grady Sizemore to begin the game. Shin-Soo Choo followed with a double to right field, bringing up the heart of the order for the Indians in Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner and Jhonny Peralta. Martinez reached on an infield single to first, but Greinke struck out Hafner on four pitches and Tony Pena Jr., who was playing shortstop, made a great play up the middle and threw out Peralta to end the inning.

In the Royals’ half of the first inning, Coco Crisp drew a walk and two hitters later, David DeJesus drew one as well. That set the stage for an offensive explosion. Mark Teahen singled in Crisp on a 1-2 pitch to give the Royals a 1-0 lead. Billy Butler followed him with an RBI double to deep center. And a couple of hitters later, Alberto Callaspo singled in Teahen to give the Royals a 3-0 lead.

Greinke battled his control in the second inning, but he was able to sit down the Indians in order, picking up two more strike outs.

Craig Brown at Royals Authority chronicled the events of the third inning quite well in a post titled Gritty Greinke:
He walked Asdrubal Cabrera on seven pitches and then followed by walking Grady Sizemore on five pitches. In the at bat with Cabrera, he started him away with a strike on the outside corner and then came back inside, missing on three consecutive pitches. He lost him on a curveball that was borderline. With Sizemore, he missed on all four fastballs he threw, and all were up in the zone.
Greinke then struck out Shin-Soo Choo in a seven pitch at bat and gave up a single to Victor Martinez which loaded the bases. Four hitters into the inning, he had thrown 24 pitches and retired just a single hitter. He was in some serious hot water.
Perhaps frustrated with the fastball, Greinke went exclusively off speed. Of his eight pitches he threw to Travis Hafner and Jhonny Peralta, Greinke delivered six sliders and two curves. The result?  Two strikeouts. That’s pure Greinke. Unhappy with the fastball and in trouble? Screw it … Let’s go to the off speed. As a hitter, it has to play with their heads. “He can’t possibly throw me a fifth straight off-speed pitch, can he?”
Uhhh, yes. Yes, he can.
Back to the fastball in the fourth, and Greinke once again fell behind 3-1 to the leadoff man Ryan Garko before he ripped a fastball for a single to right. It was just that kind of night. Greinke struggled with command, yet was dominating at times.

“I don’t know how many times I’m going to be able to continue doing that,” Greinke said after the game. “The last two games, I’ve done well with people on base. Hopefully, it continues.”

Greinke fell behind Garko 3-1 to begin the fourth inning before Garko singled to right. Tony Graffanino followed with a a line drive to Mark Teahen in right that Teahen caught. A couple of hitters later, with two outs, Cabrera doubled to right field. Garko stopped at third.

Would this be the inning Greinke’s scoreless streak ended?


Greinke struck out Sizemore to end the inning. Unfortunately, partially do to his control problems and partially do to his high number of strikeouts, Greinke’s had already thrown 84 pitches.

The Royals tacked on a run in the bottom of the fourth inning when Mike Jacobs hit his first home run in a Royals uniform.

Greinke struggled again in the fifth. Victor Martinez singled on a 1-2 pitch with one out. Greinke got ahead of Hafner, who came up next, but then he missed with three successive pitches before finally striking him out. He fell behind Peralta 3-1 before getting him to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.

Hillman didn’t have much of a choice but to take Greinke out at the at point. He’d thrown 104 pitches and surely Hillman was wondering if Greinke’s ability to wiggle off the hook had been tested to the limit on that particular day.

Jeff Parker, from Royally Speaking, made this comment on Twitter: “It was really cold, that affected both Greinke and Carmona. Zack didn’t have his usual control which helped up his pitch count.”

The Royals’ bullpen gave up a couple of runs in the ninth, but Soria shut the door on the Indians to keep Greinke’s win intact.

Greinke extended his scoreless innings streak to 25, causing anticipation to build for this third start of the year, scheduled for April 18 at Texas.

What Greinke said:
“In the first inning, Tony [Pena Jr.] made an amazing play,” Greinke said. “Soon as it got by me, I knew it was gone. I was just real mad, but somehow he made the play. I don’t know how many times I can continue doing that, but the last two games I’ve been doing good with men on base. You’ve got to take the two wins, no matter how it happens. That’s as good as it can get.”
What players/managers said:
“You can’t say enough about what he did when he had to with runners on base,” Royals manager Trey Hillman said. “That’s when he was at his best. That’s what guys with his kind of stuff and his ability can do on occasion. Thankfully, he was able to do it in several innings.”
What other people said:
“We squandered too many opportunities,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said. “Greinke is a good young pitcher. We’ve seen him mature in the last couple of years.”  
What bloggers said:
“Greinke was weirdly ineffective, yet never really in serious trouble. (Well, he did load the bases against the heart of the Cleveland order, but it never felt in doubt.) Two or three years ago, he hangs a couple pitches and doesn’t strike out as many guys, and allows four earned runs in the process. Didn’t happen tonight.” (Royals Review)
“Greinke didn’t have his best stuff and still managed 5.0 innings of shutout baseball. He allowed 6 hits, 2 walks and struck out 9 hitters. He was in and out of trouble most of the game, but always made critical pitches in critical situations.  This is the kind of game that proves Zack is ascending to one of the game’s elite starting pitchers.” (Kings of Kauffman)

Friday, January 01, 2010

Zack Greinke: Start 1 of 33 in 2009

In 2009, Royals fans didn’t have a lot to cheer about with the exception of every fifth day when Zack Greinke took the mound. He had a magical season which culminated with him winning the American League Cy Young award. Royal Reflections will be reliving all 33 starts of Greinke’s 2009 starts in addition to his All-Star game appearance as we head into Spring Training 2010.

Game Date: April 8, 2009  
Kansas City @ Chicago
Royals 2, White Sox 0 / Box Score
WP: Greinke (1-0) LP: Floyd (0-1), SV: Soria (1)


Zack Greinke had never won a game at U.S. Cellular Field going into this one. He was 0-6.

That was about to change.

He threw 17 pitches in the first inning, but he sat the Sox down in order. Afterward, Greinke said he was trying to be too fine – too perfect and that ran up his pitch count. He couldn’t possibly have known that as the season progressed, hitting the corners was going to become routine.

Dewayne Wise led off the bottom of the first with a ground out to first base. Two hitters later, Carlos Quentin became the first of Greinke’s 242 strikeout victims in 2009.

Greinke walked Jim Thome to lead off the second inning and then he fell behind Jermaine Dye, who singled to right on a 3-1 pitch, moving Thome to second base. You have to wonder how Greinke’s season might have turned out if Paul Konerko had blasted a three-run home run at that point. Would it have damaged Greinke’s confidence to the point that he just didn’t trust his stuff? We’ll never know because Greinke got Konerko to ground into a 6-4-3 double play and then he got A.J. Pierzynski to ground out to end the inning.

In the top of the third inning, Mike Aviles doubled with two outs and Coco Crisp followed him with a ground rule double to right field, giving the Royals a 1-0 lead.

That seemed to settle Greinke down and he came out throwing strikes in the bottom of the third. He got ahead of Alexei Ramirez 0-2 before striking him out. He got ahead of Josh Fields 0-2, but then walked him. He got ahead of Wise before getting him to pop out. And he got ahead of Chris Getz before Fields was thrown out at second trying to steal.

Greinke got ahead of the first two hitters in the fourth inning, but then he hit Quentin. Dick Kaegel recorded it this way: “There was one disquieting moment when, after Carlos Quentin absorbed a Greinke pitch on his back, he made a step toward the pitcher but was quickly diverted toward first base. Greinke thought Quentin’s reaction was probably residue from a wayward pitch over the batter back in the first inning.”

Maybe Greinke’s quest for perfection was causing him to be wild. Maybe he was wild and covered it by saying he was trying to be too fine. I tend to believe what he says though because he tends to say whatever is on his mind.

Whatever the case, he came back strong to strike out Thome and Dye to end the inning after hitting Quentin.

The Royals struck again in the top of the fifth inning. Aviles was in the middle of it again. He led off the inning with a single and he took second on a wild pitch. Crisp sacrificed him over to third and two hitters later, Mark Teahen singled him in to give the Royals a 2-0 lead.

Somehow, Greinke found his control in the fifth inning. He did give up a single to Pierzynski, the second hit of the game for the Sox, but Greinke got the next two hitters.

In the sixth inning, Greinke was fatigued. He struck out Wise to begin the inning but he fell behind the next two hitters, walking one of them and setting the stage for the possibility of Thome tying the game with a two-run home run. Again, you have to wonder if the 2009 season would have looked different for Greinke if Thome had taken him deep. But it didn’t happen. Greinke got him to line out on a 3-2 pitch to second base.

Trey Hillman let Greinke start the seventh inning. Greinke had thrown 93 pitches at that point. Dye led off the inning and got ahead 1-0. He singled the next pitch into center field and Hillman removed Greinke – justifiably so.

Greinke went on to get the W and removed the monkey off his back at U.S. Cellular. Not a bad way to begin his season.  

What Greinke said:
“I treated every batter like I didn’t want him to get a hit on me, maybe was a little too fine,” Greinke said. “I didn’t give in one pitch the whole game. If I threw a fastball, I wanted it to be right on the corner, knee high – or inside corner, waist to stomach high. I was trying to make the perfect pitch too much.”
What players/managers said:
“He was pretty darn good. I mean 95 [mph], just painting, inside, outside, up and down,” Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “He had a good slider, a good curveball. That’s what he can do. We’ve seen him like that before and he’s tough. You have to match him pitch for pitch and Gavin tried.”
What other people said:
“Greinke fooled future Hall of Famer Jim Thome so badly on a slider that Thome was halfway to the dugout by the time home plate umpire Bill Hohn lifted his arm to signal strike three,” Joe Posnanski said. “Greinke got Jermaine Dye to miss a curveball by three blocks. Greinke threw the nastiest slider you ever saw to Chicago leadoff man Dewayne Wise, and Wise was able to just barely tick it with his bat. So Greinke threw another one that was 3 percent nastier, and Wise swung and missed and struck out, too. Untouchable. That’s all.”
What bloggers said:
“I don’t know how anyone ever gets a hit off of Zack Greinke, who was brilliant tonight. Greinke allowed just three hits, to go with three walks and seven strikeouts.” (Royals Review)
“When it was all said and done, Greinke had pitched six innings and allowed just 3 hits, 3 walks, a hit batter and struck out seven White Sox and, of course, allowed zero runs. I know Zack didn’t have his good control and, personally, I don’t really think he had great stuff.   What’s that tell you about the capabilities and the maturity of Zack Greinke?” (Royals Authority)

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reliving Zack Greinke’s 2009 season

Zack Greinke made 33 starts for the Royals in 2009 and he made an appearance in the All-Star game. It was a magical year that ended with a Cy Young award for Greinke. Over the next three months, I’m going to do a series in which we relive each start, as well as his All-Star game appearance.

I’ll include quotes from Greinke as they were recorded in various news stories. I’ll include quotes from various Royals bloggers, and maybe quotes from bloggers of the teams Greinke faced. And I plan to dig deep into the Twitter archives for quotes about Greinke from fans and players as the season progressed.

I hope you enjoy it. The series will begin tomorrow.
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