Going into the sixth inning of Tuesday night’s game against the Blue Jays, Ian Kennedy was pitching a shutout.
If you’re a Royals fan, this was good news.
Kennedy has had a miserable year: he’s 4-12 with an ERA of 5.39 and in 10 of 28 starts has failed to complete five innings. Kennedy is signed through 2020, so any signs of life would be welcome.
Unfortunately, Blue Jays starting pitcher Marcus Stroman was also throwing a shutout, so Kennedy did not have much room for error.
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The change-up to Morales
Five batters into the game, Kennedy threw his first change-up.
It wasn’t a good one, but the results were. The change-up was in the middle of the zone, but Kendrys Morales hit a ground ball to Alcides Escobar for the first out of the second inning.
Four innings later, Kennedy threw his second change-up of the game.
The change-up to Goins
One of the problems with having four or five pitches is throwing that fourth or fifth pitch often enough to have a feel for it. When a game is on TV we don’t get to see the pitcher warm up between innings, so if Kennedy was throwing change-ups while warming up, we missed it.
But Kennedy hadn’t thrown a change-up to a hitter since the second inning and when he threw another change-up to Ryan Goins in the sixth inning, it once again wasn’t a good one.
The pitch was up and the left-handed hitting Goins singled through the right side of the infield.
The change-up to Barney
With Goins on first base, right-handed hitter Darwin Barney tried to bunt twice and failed. With the count 0-2 Kennedy threw two fastballs and a slider and Barney fouled them off.
That’s when Kennedy decided to throw his third change-up of the game.
Right-handed pitchers tend to avoid throwing change-ups to right-handed hitters. Left-handed pitchers often feel the same way about throwing change-ups to left-handed hitters.
Change-ups tend to move to the pitcher’s arm side, so right-handed Ian Kennedy was about to throw right-handed Darwin Barney a pitch that would be inside, but probably wouldn’t have enough velocity to jam Barney. The change-up would have to finish down, preferably, out of the zone.
Catcher Salvador Perez did not originally call for a change-up. He ran through a series of signs for other pitches, but when he put down the sign for a change-up, Perez finally got to the pitch Kennedy wanted to throw.
The 85 mph change-up was in, but up, and Barney hit it out of the yard for a two-run homer. The Jays took a lead they’d never give back and the Royals went on to lose the game 5-2.
When the catcher puts down a sign, who’s in charge?
If the catcher is an All-Star and the pitcher is a rookie, the catcher might tell the kid not to shake off pitches. If the pitcher is the All-Star and the catcher is the rookie, it might work the same way in reverse.
If the pitcher is a reliever who’s been watching the game from a distance of 400 feet, the catcher might say don’t shake me — I’ve been catching this game for seven innings and I know what’s going on, you don’t.
But most catchers want the pitcher to throw a pitch the pitcher believes in. A pitcher winding up while thinking he’s about to throw the wrong pitch rarely gets good results.
Should Salvador Perez have made a mound visit?
One of the criticisms of Salvador Perez is that he’s too willing to let a pitcher call his own game; if the pitcher doesn’t like the sign Salvy throws down, Salvy just throws down more signs until the pitcher sees one he likes.
And sometimes pitchers have inaccurate ideas about how good their stuff is. One of the duties of a catcher is to be honest with the pitcher. The pitcher might think he’s throwing a great slider that night and the catcher needs to go to the mound and tell the pitcher his slider isn’t as good as he thinks it is, throw something else.
So when Ian Kennedy wanted to throw an 0-2 change-up to a right-handed hitter — a pitch Kennedy hadn’t thrown well in two previous attempts — should Perez have gone to the mound and talked about it?
One school of thought says yes: Don’t make an 0-2 mistake.
Another school of thought says no: 0-2 is a bad time for a mound visit. The pitcher has the hitter on the ropes; don’t mess with the pitcher’s rhythm.
In the end, the pitcher is the one with the ball in his hand, so he gets to make the final decision; throwing an 0-2 change-up to a right-handed hitter, especially when the change-up wasn’t working, falls on Ian Kennedy.
But Salvador Perez didn’t do a whole lot to talk him out of it.