K.C. scouts had the book on Blue Jays hitters

By Bob Elliott

KANSAS CITY _ Not that Kansas City Royals scout Tim Conroy was in Toronto for a long time but people were who he was voting for in the Canadian federal election.

Conroy arrived at the Rogers Centre Aug. 28 when the Detroit Tigers were in town, saw the Blue Jays final 35 games or the regular season and the five games against the Texas Rangers.

So, he had a 40-game, book on the Jays before the first game of the American League Championship Series against the Royals.

In an era when many teams are cutting back on advance scouts, K.C. general manager Dayton Moore also assigned Paul Gibson, former Detroit Tigers reliever, to the Jays on Sept. 21 and advance scout Alex Zumwalt dropped by as well. 

(Gibson pitched eight years in the majors after surviving his rookie year at class-A Shelby rooming with former Blue Jays trainer Tommy Craig in 1978.)

How did the Royals staff limit the Jays, who led the majors in runs scored and home runs, to six homers, 26 runs, a .240 average and a .190 mark with men in scoring position?

“Overall the pitching plan worked,” said Conroy, who pitched seven years in the majors, “we wanted to stay hard, stay away. From what I saw they are big mistake hitters.

“I saw opposing teams throw breaking balls and soft stuff inside and get hurt. Toronto has dangerous hitters. If we could get them looking over the plate, it opens up the inside.”

Edinson Volquez set the tone for the Royals in Game 1, while Game 4 starter Chris Young pitched inside. 

What else can three scouts learn watching a team for a month as opposed to watching on TV?

Some of the things learned about lefty David Price:

_ Not once in seven starts did he throw over to first and he only threw over five times all season. He didn’t have to as he was so quick to the plate.

Still K.C. had Eric Hosmer running in Game 2. He stayed out of a double play on a Kendrys Morales grounder. Alex Rios stole second in Game 5, the first against Price since Sept. 28, 2014.

_ Patterns of Price’s pitches.

The lefty would often go to a change up after a foul ball straight back, plus he and catcher Russell Martin had a “cutter, cutter, soft stuff, change up” pattern,” according to Conroy. In the pivotal seventh of Game 2, Hosmer saw a fastball, a fastball and a change (RBI-single) and Mike Moustakas saw four straight fastballs and a change (RBI-single).

Moustakas’s disputed homer in Game 6 came on a change.

_ The deep breath.

Sports Illustrated’s eagle-eyed scribe Tom Verducci noticed it too: Price took a settling breath before throwing his change.

“He didn’t do it on his fastball or his cutter, I’m sure he doesn’t even realize he is even doing it,” said Conroy, “Our hitters saw Price a lot since he was with Detroit.

“If anyone is worried about David Price’s breathing, or pitch sequences come free agency time they should not be. They are the last things I’d worry about. He’ll be a great sign for some club.”

The key batter in the Jays lineup according to Conroy? Not Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion. Nope. It was Kevin Pillar. 

“We believed the key was Pillar if we could keep him off base, we’d be OK,” said Conroy. “Almost every time I saw Pillar get on, Donaldson wound up hitting in the same inning. Pillar seemed to be their ignitor.”

Pillar hit .238 and scored three runs against K.C.

One thing that surprised Conroy about the Jays was the fact Justin Smoak had only had three at-bats in the ALCS.

“Chris Colabello had a good series, swung the bat well and was a tough out, I thought we’d see the other guy more,” Conroy said.

The Royals hit .294 against the Jays, who started Marco Estrada, Marcus Stroman, R.A. Dickey and Price (the Jays hit .234).

“Estrada was remarkable, he throws a high change, a low change, both games he pitched he was what we thought he was going to be,” Conroy said. “Stroman is an exciting, energetic guy. He’s very dynamic and pitches without fear. For a guy to come back from that injury? 
If he hadn’t it would have been Mark Buehrle in the rotation.

“As good as Dickey was in September dominating hitters, the knuckleball can at times be an unknown thing.”

Conroy said Price was the most dominant Jays starter.

“I didn’t understand the 11 days off leading into Texas,” Conroy said. “He was always around the zone and shut us down for long stretches in both games.”

So, who did the native of Monroeville, Pa. vote for in our federal election.

“My guy lost,” said the Royals advance scout jokingly.