Tag Archive | "Sixth Inning"

Playoff Push Begins With St. Louis Cardinals 14-inning Victory Over Pittsburgh Pirates

The St. Louis Cardinals had been struggling. They had won four of their past 17 games, dropped to second place in the National League Central Division and were creeping ever closer to falling to third, but all of those problems washed away as the Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates played the most intense game of the season.

AdronChambers

There was good pitching, timely hitting, defensive miscues and enough strategy to make the most devoted baseball purists giddy as they first- and second-guessed the multitude of decisions managers Mike Matheny and Clint Hurdle had to make.

The Pirates jumped ahead with three runs in the first two innings, but then starting pitcher Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals bullpen held them scoreless for the next 12 innings as the Cardinals charged toward a comeback win against a rock-solid team.

The Cardinals scored two runs in the sixth inning to close within one run of Pittsburgh’s lead, and then Pirates left fielder Starling Marte dropped a fly ball with one out in the bottom of the ninth, and the Cardinals cashed in to tie the game two batters later on a base hit by Allen Craig.

Each team had multiple opportunities to win the game as they both put runners in scoring position in the 10th, 11th and 13th innings, but each time the team in the field came up with a critical play to save the game.

The game ended in the 14th inning when left fielder Adron Chambers singled to left to score Jon Jay. The Cardinals got a crucial extra-inning victory to close within two games of the Pirates for the division lead, and for the first time they showed the toughness and will to do whatever possible to try to win the game.

Tuesday’s victory was the Cardinals first in 41 tries when they had trailed after eight innings. For whatever reason, this has not been a good come-from-behind team. It jumped out to leads in the first few innings seemingly every night early in the season as they racked up the best record in Major League Baseball, but they had yet to show the unwavering fight to win a game in the late innings, which was a hallmark trait of the 2011 World Series championship team and the 2012 team that came within one win of the World Series.

But the 2013 edition of the Cardinals looked very similar to those previous two teams Tuesday at Busch Stadium. Wainwright made it through seven innings without allowing a run after the second inning, and five relievers, including four rookies, kept the Pirates scoreless in what turned out to be the second half of the game.

That is the type of win that should give a team a burst of confidence to realize they can come back from a late-inning deficit and beat a good team such as Pittsburgh. Even though the Cardinals had a great record in the first half of the season, they had not played many winning teams and had not been tested nearly as strong as they have so far in the second half.

The Pirates, Cincinnati Reds. Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers won 11 of 15 games from the Cardinals in a two-week stretch, and that shook the baseball world in St. Louis. Suddenly the game wasn’t coming nearly as easily as it had earlier in the season, and the team had to toughen up.

More than anything, toughness was the trait that shined through as the Cardinals won a thrilling game Tuesday over the Pirates.

Perhaps the team has found the edge it needed to make this a fun and intense six-week race for the division title and another hold-your-breath type of October.

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The state of the Royals offense

If you are a fan of the long ball, the Kansas City Royals may not be the team for you.

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Kansas City has 54 home runs as a team this year. This puts them second to last in the MLB, in front of only the Marlins. The Royals are the only team in baseball that doesn’t have a player with 10 or more home runs. Eric Hosmer leads the team with nine homers, including five home runs in the teams’ last eight games. Alex Gordon is second on the team with eight home runs.

The Royals have only four players with five or more round-trippers. Billy Butler has six and Mike Moustakas has five. As a point of reference, the Orioles lead the league in homers and have eight players with five or more and four players with 10 or more.

Last year Butler led the team with 29 homers and Moustakas added 20, but both are well off the pace they set in 2012.

Not only does Kansas City struggle to hit home runs, but they also don’t walk and thus they are in the bottom half of the league in runs scored.

With 210 walks on the season, the Royals rank 26th in the majors. Kansas City is 21st in the league with 334 runs scored. They are also in the bottom half of the league in on-base percentage, slugging and OPS.

The strengths of the Royals’ offense are hitting for average and being aggressive in the running game. As a team, Kansas City is hitting .260 on the year and is 4th in the majors with 60 stolen bases.

For the offense to get better, they must get more runners on base, especially via the walk. With more base runners, the Royals can attack on the base paths and have more chances to hit with runners in scoring position.

George Brett, the new Royals hitting coach, needs to stress the importance of drawing walks and having a patient approach. Kansas City has plenty of good hitters, even if hitting home runs is not their strength. With more walks the team should see a spike in runs scored and will give the Royals’ pitchers the run support they’ve been lacking.

The sixth inning of Thursday’s game against the Indians was a good example of the power of drawing a walk. Hosmer and Butler drew back-to-back free passes off of Ubaldo Jimenez and after Moustakas reached on an error, Lorenzo Cain launched a grand slam. It was nice that Cain came up with the big hit, but it was all set up by the lead-off walks.

The Royals took advantage of eight walks in the game and hit three home runs in a 10-7 victory over Cleveland.

More of the same would be nice for Royals fans.

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Adam Wainwright becomes even more important as St. Louis Cardinals injuries mount

Right-handed starter Adam Wainwright has been a leader on the St. Louis Cardinals staff for years as he became co-ace of the pitching rotation with Chris Carpenter, but the team needs Wainwright’s leadership now more than at any other time in his career.

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Wainwright, 31, is now the lone veteran in the Cardinals rotation after 35-year-old right-hander Jake Westbrook went on the disabled list May 9 with elbow inflammation.

Left-handed starter Jaime Garcia is only 26 years old, but he was in his fifth season in the big leagues and had made 90 career starts before he had surgery earlier this week that ended his 2013 season. The four other pitchers now in the Cardinals rotation have a combined 55 career starts, and 41 of those are from right-hander Lance Lynn, who is in only his second full season with the team.

Wainwright will make his 162nd career start Monday when he takes the mound in Kansas City against the Royals, and each start becomes all the more important as the Cardinals hold their breath every time rookies John Gast, Tyler Lyons or Shelby Miller make a start.

Their worries don’t come from those pitchers’ performances, they have combined for a 2.40 earned-run average, but young pitchers don’t have a track record to reassure management and fans that they’ll consistently have more good games than bad ones.

For example, Miami Marlins right-handed starter Jose Fernandez is touted as one of the best up-and-coming pitchers in Major League Baseball. Although he has a 3.31 ERA, he is 2-2 in nine starts and has failed to pitch past the fifth inning five times.

Gast, Lyons and Miller have pitched at least into the sixth inning in each of their combined 12 starts heading into play Saturday, but the chances of them maintaining that pace are slim, at best.

That means the bullpen will likely see more action in coming weeks, so Wainwright’s responsibilities could become two-fold every time he pitches. He’ll likely have to go deep into games to save the bullpen for days when the young pitchers start, and he’ll have to pitch well enough to win if the other starters hit a rough stretch and the team enters Wainwright’s start on a losing streak.

But Wainwright is capable of being a do-everything pitcher. He has a 6-3 record and 2.38 ERA in 10 starts and is returning to the type of dominant pitcher he was before he had Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2011 season.

Plus, he has the experience that comes with nine years in the big leagues and has learned how to be a leader from the 38-year old Carpenter, who won the Cy Young Award in 2005.

Carpenter might join Wainwright in the rotation in late June or early July if his rehabilitation from nerve problems in his arm continues to go well, and Westbrook could return even sooner if he doesn’t suffer any more setbacks in his recovery.

Until then, Wainwright is going to have to be the starting rotation’s best pitcher, mentor and leader. Good thing he has strong shoulders.

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2013 St. Louis Cardinals are very good, but could be great

The St. Louis Cardinals jumped out to a 28-16 record through roughly the first quarter of the regular season, and while that is the best record in the National League, the team still has noticeable room for improvement.

Jon Jay

The roster started to round into form nicely in early May as the hitters such as centerfielder Jon Jay and third baseman David Freese improved their swings, and the bullpen stabilized to provide reinforcements late in the game for a starting rotation that was by far the most dominant in all of Major League Baseball.

But then right-handed starter Jake Westbrook went on the disabled list May 12 with a sore elbow, and left-handed starter Jaime Garcia’s probably ended Friday when he left the game with left shoulder pain and is likely headed for surgery.

The Cardinals called up left-handed pitcher John Gast to fill Westbrook’s spot, and Gast has done well with wins in each of his first two starts. Gast has a 4.76 earned-run average, but that’s largely because he ran into trouble in the sixth inning after pitching five scoreless innings in each game.

Another lefty, Tyler Lyons, will start Wednesday in San Diego against the Padres in place of Garcia. Lyons had a 4.47 ERA through eight starts with the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds, but neither Lyons nor Gast should be the Cardinals’ largest worries.

If Gast continues to pitch well, the Cardinals could keep him in the rotation when Westbrook comes back and send Lyons back to the minors, but the bullpen is still more of a concern.

Mitchell Boggs returned to the Cardinals on Monday in San Diego after a nearly three-week long banishment in Memphis to straighten out his pitching since he racked up an ERA above 12.00 in his first 14 appearances of the season.

Boggs gave up a homerun to the first hitter he faced Monday, which was Padres centerfielder Will Veneble, but then settled in to retire the next six hitters in a row.

Before Boggs, Fernando Salas entered Monday’s game in the sixth inning to relieve right-handed rookie starter Shelby Miller, who held a 2-1 lead at the time but left with two runners on base. Salas promptly gave up a single to center by outfielder Chris Denorfia, walked catcher John Baker and hit pinch hitter Jesus Guzman to allow the Padres to take their game-winning 4-2 lead.

The bullpen doesn’t have to be perfect every game. That’s an unrealistic expectation, but the inconsistency is frightening now that the starting rotation is down to three of its original five members.

The relievers’ workload could quickly skyrocket if Gast and Lyons can’t make it past the sixth inning. Right-handed starter Lance Lynn tends to run up a high pitch count fairly regularly, and Miller hasn’t made it past the sixth inning in his two starts after the complete-game shutout he threw May 10 at Busch Stadium against the Colorado Rockies.

That, in turn, puts more pressure on right-handed ace Adam Wainwright to pitch deep into every game he pitches because the bullpen will likely be either overworked or on the verge of being overworked until Westbrook returns and Chris Carpenter completes another surprising comeback.

Wainwright will also have to pitch very well in his starts because the offense has yet to consistently put up large run totals this season. The lineup has produced more than four runs in a game three times in the last 13 games.

However, the Cardinals’ lineup is packed with five hitters who have combined for more than 3,000 RBIs in their careers, so any scoring droughts likely won’t last very long.

Given their start, the 2013 Cardinals have the potential to put together one of the best records in franchise history, but they currently still have a few too many questions on their roster to make that prediction become reality.

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Matt Adams turns potential into reality for St. Louis Cardinals

When the St. Louis Cardinals waged their annual war with injuries last season as Allen Craig and Lance Berkman went on the disabled list within weeks of each other in May, the Cardinals needed a replacement, and their first choice was minor leaguer Matt Adams.

MattAdams

Adams looked the part. He’s 6-foot-3-inches tall, weighs 260 pounds and hit 82 homeruns in his four years in the minor leagues while compiling a .318 batting average. But that wasn’t the player who showed up in the Cardinals lineup in 2012. Adams hit .244 with two homeruns and 13 RBIs in his 27-game stay with the big-league club.

So where was this power potential that made him the Cardinals first choice to fill-in while two players with power bats sat on the disabled list? Apparently it had left Adams’ right elbow.

Adams and the Cardinals didn’t know it at the time, but he had been hampered by a bone spur in his elbow and eventually had surgery to repair it last season after the Cardinals sent him back to the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds.

And it turns out that injury made a huge difference because the 2013 version of Adams is much more in line with the stories of his powerful approach to hitting and why the Cardinals considered him a top prospect..

Adams crushed the ball throughout spring training. He hit three homeruns and led the team with 17 RBIs in 28 games. He has carried that success into the regular season so far, and at times carried the team.

He got the Cardinals their first extra-base hit of the three-game series last weekend against the San Francisco Giants when he hit a two-run, ground-rule double into right-centerfield in the fourth inning Sunday against Giants ace Matt Cain. He also carried his hot bat into the Cardinals first home series of the season, a three-game set with the division-rival Cincinnati Reds.

The Cardinals trailed the Reds 1-0 in the sixth inning Tuesday against Reds starter Bronson Arroyo, who to that point in the game had not allowed a hitter to reach base. But Adams, who entered the game as a pinch hitter, waited on one of Arroyo’s trademark slow breaking balls and crushed it into the rightfield seats for a two-run homer.

Then he did the same thing in the sixth inning Wednesday against Reds pitcher Homer Bailey as the Cardinals cruised to a 10-0 win behind a stellar complete-game performance by starter Jake Westbrook.

Adams is in such a groove right now he has the look of a hitter who could hit almost any pitch out of the ballpark. He is getting healthy cuts on pitches he misses, and most of his foul balls have been smashed into the seats down the rightfield line.

That’s the type of hitter the Cardinals management saw in the minor leagues, and it’s the type of hitter who will likely play a very important role for the team throughout the season.

Craig is still the starting first baseman, and he is in no danger of losing that job. But Craig will also have to play rightfield on a fairly regular basis to give 35-year-old Carlos Beltran enough days off to make it through the season, and that could give Adams enough opportunities to be a large part of the Cardinals offense this season.

Even if he is primarily used in a bench role, it’s always nice to have a player who’s hitting over .600 ready to take an important at-bat late in a ballgame.

Sure, Adams won’t continue to hit .600 or better throughout the season, but the Cardinals now have a power hitter who can change the tone of a game immediately.

The Cardinals thought Adams could provide that aspect of the game when he came up in 2012. Now they know he can in 2013.

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Video: Adron Chambers Has A Day

Adron Chambers and Shane Robinson are battling hard for spots on the St. Louis Cardinals roster this Spring Training.

Adron Chambers

Up until now, Robinson is leading that charge, putting up much better offensive numbers and playing solid defense.  Chambers had been his normal self, showing great speed in the field and on the base paths.

It was his speed that allowed Chambers to show off a flashy defensive play Friday as the Cardinals played the Astros.  Chambers chased a fly ball into the left field corner, eventually sliding and producing a stellar grab on the warning track.  Courtesy of MLB.com, here’s the video:

Adron brought a part of his game Friday that most had not seen real well until now, however.  His 3-for-3 performance was capped off by a three-run home run in the sixth inning.  Again, courtesy of MLB.com:

Chambers has long been intriguing to the makeup of the roster due to his speed and athletic ability.  If he can start to find his stroke at the plate, he may just find himself in St. Louis instead of Memphis.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball
Follow him on Twitter here.

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St. Louis Cardinals’ comeback in Cincinnati marks beginning of division race

The St. Louis Cardinals trailed the Cincinnati Reds 5-2 heading into the sixth inning of Friday’s game, one that marked the beginning of a vital series for both teams. Cardinals starting pitcher Lance Lynn did not make it out of the third inning and the Reds were poised to extend their lead in the NL Central to eight games.

Then came the sixth inning.

The Cardinals offense busted loose for six runs, including back-to-back homeruns by Allen Craig and Yadier Molina, to take an 8-5 lead.

The Cardinals held onto that lead for the rest of the game and won an extremely important game that begins a 13-game stretch against the Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals. That win also set them up to have a shot at winning the NL Central by cutting the Reds lead to six games.

The most impressive part of Friday’s game, and the part that should give Cardinals fans optimism for September, is that the Cardinals were able to come from behind against their rivals and the team with the second-best record in Major League Baseball.

Complaints about all aspects of the Cardinals have erupted in the last two weeks as the team went 6-7 before sweeping the Houston Astros Tuesday through Thursday. The offense wasn’t scoring consistently enough, the bullpen couldn’t hold a lead and the complaints could go on and on. They likely will after Lynn’s start as people panic that Lynn will fall apart down the stretch.

However, the Cardinals came back from the dead Friday to beat the division-leading Reds. That game could be the watershed moment for this Cardinals team. That win had all the looks of an experienced ballclub that knows how to win. Many teams would’ve conceded the game with Reds starter Mat Latos throwing well and a terrific bullpen to follow.

Instead, the Cardinals put their heads down and salvaged a game that looked to be over when manager Mike Matheny had to call Joe Kelly to the mound in the third inning. Some people might say that was a panic move, but it might end up being on of Matheny’s best decisions of the season. Kelly threw three innings of relief and got the win.

The only unfortunate part of Kelly’s performance is that it will spark debate about who to have in the fifth spot in the rotation. Jaime Garcia is back from shoulder problems and pitched eight beautiful innings last Sunday against the Pirates, but it also created a situation where the Cardinals went from two solid back-of-the-rotation pitchers to uncertainty if they have any pitcher good enough for the fifth spot.

That situation will surely work itself out. The offense saved Lynn on Friday and perhaps an extra few days of rest wouldn’t hurt, but both Lynn and Kelly are good pitchers who are going to help the team a heck of a lot more often than they Will Hurt it.

Now, before we paint too rosy of a picture, the Cardinals fell to the Reds 8-2 Saturday and still sit seven games out of the division lead, although they do currently hold the second wild-card spot. However, if the Cardinals can hang close up until the final week of the season, they play the Reds Oct. 1-3 in St. Louis. That could be one very fun series if the division title is not yet decided.

And if that happens, remember Friday as day the Cardinals came from behind and started their full pursuit on the Reds for the division lead.

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April showers bring May disaster

The only good thing about the Cardinals’ 1-4 trip is they returned home still in first place in the National League Central Division, albeit only a half game ahead of Cincinnati.

The 1-4 trip followed a 1-4 homestand, giving the Cardinals eight losses in their last 10 games. In three of their four losses on the trip to San Francisco and Los Angeles, they scored five runs, which would have been enough to win earlier in the season. But the bullpen let them down Sunday in a 6-5 loss at Los Angeles.

Left-hander Marc Rzepczynski struck out the only really dangerous hitter in the injury-riddled Dodgers lineup when he fanned right fielder Andre Ethier with two on in the seventh inning. That was the second out. Rzepczynski had only to get St. Louisan Scott Van Slyke, a minor league call-up who was pinch hitting.

After falling behind 3-0, Rzpczynski laid in a changeup. Van Slyke had the green light from manager Don Mattingly and the son of former star outfielder Andy Van Slyke, popped his first big-league home run, a three-run shot, to left.

“My plan was to go with sinkers away early and see if he could hit a ground ball,” Rzepczynski said. “Then I threw a 3-0 changeup, thinking he’d be a little bit out in front of it, I just left it up a little bit up, and it was right in his wheelhouse.”

The Cardinals ran themselves out of two innings although television replays indicated catcher Yadier Molina was safe in the sixth inning after trying to advance on a bloop hit by first baseman Matt Adams.

Adams’ performance in his first major-league game was notable. He had two singles in four at-bats as he replaced injured first baseman Lance Berkman.

“He’s a pretty mature hitter for his age and experience,” manager Mike Matheny said of the 23-year-old Adams. “He has a short, powerful swing and the ability to stay within himself and not try to do too much. He has the ability to go to both fields. Power is a rare commodity and he’s got some. Defensively, he does a nice job, too.”

 

NOTES
–1B Lance Berkman was placed on the disabled list Sunday. He will find out Monday the severity of his right knee injury suffered Saturday night. “If I’ve re-torn my ACL or something like that, I’d certainly get it fixed but you don’t know how psychologically you’re going to come back from something like that,” Berkman said. “I’m not talking from the standpoint of being scared of hurting it again. I’m talking about doing everything it takes to come back and play again at an elite level. I think that’s a legitimate question I’m going to have to answer if, in fact, it turns out to be something more serious than we hope that it is.”

–Rookie 1B Matt Adams was purchased from Class AAA Memphis to replace 1B Lance Berkman. Adams, a 23rd-round draft pick from Slippery Rock University in 2009, was hitting .340 with nine homers at Memphis and he singled on the first pitch thrown to him in the majors and added a second single on Sunday while playing flawlessly in the field, even starting a double play.

–RHP Kyle Lohse was denied his sixth victory by a bullpen letdown. Lohse, over 5 1/3 innings, pitched around many of the Dodgers’ 11 hits off him.

–3B David Freese, already locked in an awful slump, hit rock bottom on Sunday, fanning four times on four at-bats, mostly on high fastballs. Freese is 3 for his last 34 with all three hits coming in the same game.

–2B Skip Schumaker continued his impressive hitting as a part-time player, suggesting that perhaps he should play more. Schumaker tripled in two runs in the fifth and also drew a walk.

BY THE NUMBERS: 8 — Consecutive losses by the Cardinals to the Los Angeles Dodgers over two seasons.

QUOTE TO NOTE:  From the Chicago Tribune, “If this team has shown anything, it’s that it’s resilient enough to hang in there. We realize no matter who it is, we’re going to be right there. I still feel that way.” — 1B Lance Berkman, after he went down with a right knee injury, further cluttering the Cardinals’ disabled list.

MEDICAL WATCH:

–1B Lance Berkman (right knee injury) was placed on the disabled list May 20. He will find out this week the severity of the injury suffered May 19.

–RHP Kyle McClellan (strained right ulnar collateral ligament) left the May 17 game and returned to St. Louis to be examined by team doctors. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list on May 18 and will be sidelined at least 10 weeks.

–RF Carlos Beltran (sore right knee, plantar fasciitis in right foot) did not start May 14-17, though he pinch-hit three times. He returned to the lineup May 18.

–CF Jon Jay (sprained right shoulder) went on the 15-day disabled list May 15.

–RHP Scott Linebrink (right shoulder capsulitis) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 30. He felt tightness during an April 30 bullpen session, and he didn’t appear close to a return.

–RHP Chris Carpenter (weak right shoulder) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 26. He isn’t likely to begin a real throwing program until sometime in May and probably won’t pitch until at least June.

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Waiting No More

The season is finally here.  No more what ifs, no more predictions, just statistics and results.  All the fans can do now is sit and watch what happens on the field.  Many predictions have been made over the last six months about the Kansas City Royals yet like everything else in life all the assumptions account for nothing just the results. All the excitement about the Royals in 2012 can continue with the team having a good productive start to the season or the excitement could taper off like seasons in the past.  Kansas City has not been this excited about their hometown team for a long time, the 1970s and 1980s to be exact.  But this time it is different.  This team wants to win not only for themselves but for the city itself.  Also, not only do they want to win but they want to do it here in Kansas City.  The future is still the future but the present is now and nothing feels greater than to have our team playing in our town right now.

In years past, the city has always been excited about the fact that baseball season has started but that was because they had another option for a night out on the town that started at Kauffman Stadium.  Now, fans have the excitement on the field drawing them in.  They are not just going for Garth Brooks in the sixth inning or hot dogs or over priced cold beverages. Now for the first time in years they are going to watch the likes of first basemen Eric Hosmer, 2011 Gold Glove winner Alex Gordon out in left field, a young gun pitching staff along with the whole cast of Royals.  The team is finally the attraction and they want nothing more than to be the talk of the town.  In years past teams that the Royals organization put out of the field were there to make their money and get on to the next thing.  But this time it is different.  Winning is now the only thing.  Not many people outside of Kansas City are truly giving this team a chance.  Reasons like they are young, they won’t spend the money needed to field a winner, they are breeding the next big New York Yankee or Oakland A, but that is exactly what some of the players on this team want the outside media to say.  The underdog mentality will fuel this young ball club to do what I believe to be great things not only in years to come but this season as well.

The clubhouse has never looked as tight nit as they do now.  This team of young guys who have grown up differently, gotten their shot in the Major Leagues in many ways, have come together to join as a team.  Talent only can get a team so far but if these guys can stick together and be the family that a team needs to be success will come.  All of this aside, what do we do now?  All we can do is sit, wait, and hope that the team the Royals are putting out on the field is what we all think it can be.  Royals teams of the past had their time but for now, like the season slogan states, this is the 2012 Royals time to shine.  And shine they will.

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Duffy Admits His Need For Improvement

The Kansas City Royals roster is loaded with youngsters who were baptized by fire during the 71-91 campaign of 2011. Hopes were soaring high in September, as nearly every one of those pups seemed to be putting it together.

But for the team to take the next step to contention, nearly every one of those youngsters will need to improve on what he’s shown thus far (save perhaps Alex Gordon, who may not be able to improve on his great showing).

While improvement from the likes of Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar is essential, and while Lorenzo Cain and Johnny Giavotella must prove they can do it over a long haul, the biggest improvement is probably needed from pitcher Danny Duffy.

Duffy was given a crack at the starting rotation perhaps because the Royals realized no one could do worse than the starters they were running out to the mound.

Duffy was called up the day after Kyle Davies broke down in the first inning of a start against the Indians. What followed was legendary. Vin Mazzaro proceeded to give up an unthinkable 14 runs in just 2.1 innings of relief.

So the bar couldn’t have been much lower when Duffy joined the club. Still the jump from Omaha to KC was a big one. Duffy was rolling along with a 2.96 ERA and 84/19 K/BB ratio in 76 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. But the big leagues aren’t called “the big leagues” for nothing.

“It’s night and day. Everybody up here is up here for a reason,” Duffy said this off-season about the difference between the minors and majors.

Duffy went 4-8 in 20 starts, but he rarely gave himself a chance to pick up victories. When he wasn’t giving up big leads, he was racking up so many pitches that he had to be pulled early.

Duffy didn’t make it to the fifth inning five times. That means that in one of every four starts, Duffy didn’t even finish the fourth inning!

The rookie never led the team deep into games – he only pitched past the sixth inning three times.

For all his troubles, there’s no denying Duffy’s strike-out stuff. Armed with a mid-90s fastball and knee-buckling curve, the Royals believe Duffy doesn’t have to continue beating himself.

Former Royal pitcher and current broadcaster Jeff Montgomery, for one, sees hope for Duffy.

“Consistency will be the key for Danny,” Montgomery said recently. “It’s really important for him to go out and be a more consistent pitcher. He’s got to learn how to become more of a pitcher than a thrower.

“He’s got great stuff, great ability. If he’s able to capture that magic and learn how to get people out and that he doesn’t have to get everybody out himself, allow the hitters to get themselves out occasionally, he will improve.”

Montgomery seemed to see some of that kind of improvement in Duffy during the season. The former closer said recently that he saw Duffy trying to make the necessary changes as the season went along.

“One thing I saw in him last year that I was very impressed with was that every time he had a failure or a struggle, he made adjustments,” Montgomery said. “And it’s a system of adjustments that you have to make before you finally become a quality plug-in guy that you can go to every day.”

Duffy was just 1-4 at the All-Star Break, and he did improve with a 3-4 mark after the break. But the quality of his starts seemed to remain about the same. A closer look doesn’t exactly show that Duffy got better from the “adjustments” Montgomery alluded to.

Judging by a split of the first half and second half, Duffy didn’t really improve in two key areas – earned runs per inning, and walks per inning.

Duffy pitched 52 innings in the first half of the season. In that half, he gave up 28 earned runs and 25 walks.

In the second half of the season, Duffy was shut down after 53.1 innings. In the second half, he allowed 38 earned runs, while walking 26.

Duffy is not unaware of the fact that he didn’t get it done last year. He knows that he was allowed to stick in the rotation in spite of his dismal performance because the team was determined to let him grow into the role.

He said he’s been focused and disciplined in his effort to be better. He knows his big-league livelihood is at stake.

I think this off-season I’ve done everything I can to be what it takes to stay up here,” Duffy said. “I’ve watched a lot of video and I’m doing a lot of stuff, even in the mirror, with my delivery to improve. I just want to get out there and prove that I belong up here.”

Duffy may not have long to prove he belongs. Not in the starting rotation at least. He’ll most likely start there, but he might not stay there. He’ll have Mike Montgomery breathing down his neck, and Jake Odorizzi, Chris Dwyer and John Lamb not far away. Add those calling for Aaron Crow to be given a shot at starting, and there are plenty waiting in line, should Duffy continue to sputter.

But Duffy is trying to not let the pressure bother him.

“Everybody needs to have a progression in their career, and I feel like I’m getting to that point where I’m going to be consistent,” Duffy said. He admitted he’s aware of the talk about his struggles.

“I know there’s a lot of critiquing going on about my walks and my pitch counts, but I think this year I’m going to conquer that,” Duffy said. “I’ve really worked hard to get strong enough to repeat my delivery every pitch, and I feel that once you get that delivery repetition, you start putting the ball where you want.”

Duffy knows he’s not guaranteed the fifth spot in the rotation come spring. But he says he’s not going to get hung up on his role.

“I’m going to just fill in wherever they need me,” he said. “I can’t get ahead of myself. I’m just happy to be lucky enough to be a part of the squad.”

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