Game 23: Royals strike first in division battle
Alfredo Simon succeeded beyond expectations in April through a simple philosophy: He threw strikes, and he kept the ball down in the zone consistently. He left pitches up on Thursday, and he paid for them consistently.
On the flip side, the Royals were ready for Alfredo Simon, even after getting back home early Thursday morning from a disappointing Wednesday night loss in Cleveland. They made Simon pay for pitches he left up, sure, but as the strike zone map on brooksbaseball.net shows, they also hit their fair share of pitches Simon located down in the strike zone as well, such as Jarrod Dyson’s fourth-inning single.
“In a lot of situations, I was behind in the count,” Simon said. “I just tried to throw a strike and when it was up, they put a good swing on it. I think my split in the first couple innings didn’t work very good, and they took advantage of that.”
After all the talk of statements and ensuing misses from Cleveland last month, the Royals executed their part of the division rivalry to plan, from capitalizing on Simon to Danny Duffy keeping the Tigers offense constrained. They were aggressive in a way that Simon wasn’t able to use it against them.
Four of Kansas City’s nine hits off Simon went for extra bases. All of those either traveled to the outfield fence or, in the case of Eric Hosmer’s home run, cleared it. Every hit off Simon was a line drive or a fly ball except for Moustakas’ bunt single against the shift in the opening inning.
“They hit it in spots we weren’t playing. It’s tough to defend that. It’s a big outfield, a lot of room out there,” Rajai Davis said. “We made some mistakes and they took advantage of it.”
Said Simon: “I think these guys are good hitters, and they’re really hot right now.”
It was one game, and it’s entirely possible the Tigers settle in from here. A quality start from Kyle Lobstein would go a long way toward stifling momentum. But in many ways, this was a swing game of the four-game set, not just the fact that it was the first game, but for the pitching matchup. If there are statements to be made, the Royals made it, though the Tigers have been through enough of these – such as Indians early-season series sweeps in past years – to know better than make too much of one game.
“I’m not worried about this club,” Ausmus said. “They’ll come in ready to play tomorrow. I’m not concerned at all.”
Play of the game: Simon had seemingly contained the damage of Mike Moustakas’ third-inning RBI double to open the scoring by striking out Lorenzo Cain for the second out, sending a fastball by him on a foul tip with Moustakas on second. He then threw a first-pitch two-seamer that Hosmer centered off the batters eye for a two-run homer and a 3-0 lead.
“I just left a two-seamer up,” Simon said.
Out of the game: The Tigers didn’t have many rallies off Duffy, but they had a chance to strike in the first inning after a Miguel Cabrera walk and a Victor Martinez single, setting up J.D. Martinez for an RBI opportunity. Duffy couldn’t get Martinez to bite on a first-pitch curveball, but he got swings on his next three pitches – a miss on a changeup, a 94 mph fastball that Martinez fouled off, then back to the curveball which got Martinez swinging this time. It denied the Tigers a chance to take the early momentum, and it got Duffy rolling.
Strategery: It didn’t result in any runs, but Moustakas got his night started by laying a bunt down the third-base line with the infield defense shifted on him to pull. It was an easy single, and as Jose Iglesias scrambled to the line to get it, it could’ve given Moustakas a chance to at least look toward second base if he had another step or two.
It was also the exact type of move Brad Ausmus warned was coming this year from hitters to counter the shift.
“That was a perfect bunt. I give him credit,” Ausmus said. “You can tell he’s making an attempt to go the other way a little bit. If you’re going to hand him a bunt, he’ll take advantage of it. So I give him credit.”
Line of the game: The Royals scored more runs off Simon in 4 1/3 innings (six) than he gave up in his previous four outings combined (five). The nine hits he allowed included the same extra-base hit damage he had given up in his previous four starts – three doubles and a home run. His ERA rose from 1.65 to 3.13.
Stat of the game: Victor Martinez’s two-hit game was just his fourth multi-hit game so far this season. He had 57 multi-hit games last year.