McClure wants his pitchers to throw strikes

McClure wants his pitchers to throw strikes

ARLINGTON -- No mystery about what the Royals' pitchers meeting centered on prior to the opening of the series against the Rangers: Those maddening bases on balls.

No one is more frustrated than pitching coach Bob McClure. He preached his recurring sermon again on Thursday.

"You have to continue to reiterate: Get ahead of the hitters, have confidence in your stuff, and be aggressive in the strike zone," McClure said. "You have to sell into that."

McClure, who started the job in 2006, watched his charges issue 637 walks that year and did a selling job that worked -- the total dropped to 520 in 2007 and 515 in 2008. Last year it went back to 600, most in the American League, and this year's crew is back at it with a league-high 123 entering this series.

Like hot hitting, strike-throwing can also be contagious among teammates, McClure believes, and much of it has to do with a pitcher's level of confidence. Some of it can be mechanical, but especially with more experienced pitchers, it's more mental. The pitchers have to believe that they can throw strikes with their best pitches and get batters out. Pretty simple.

"The reason they got here is they've got big league stuff, but they'll never know how good they are unless they're throwing strikes," he said.

Sometimes there's a delivery flaw and some pitchers are just naturally better at it, but in McClure's view, Major Leaguers all have the ability to throw strikes. Sometimes they're pitching too fine or are too cautious with dire results.

"I have a saying: You either physically can't or you don't want to," McClure said.

The Royals' bullpen especially has been negligent with 54 walks, second-most in the AL entering Thursday's games. That's in a mere 89 innings. The starters were tied for fourth most but their rate was more acceptable, 69 walks in 162 innings.

Kyle Davies added to that on Thursday night, walking three Rangers -- two to start an inning -- and, sure enough, all of them scored. The relievers, in a reversal of form, issued no walks at all in their four innings.

McClure keeps pressing his lesson home: Pound the zone and take your chances.

"It's frustrating because I know they can do it. And they know that I know they can do it. Now it's up to them to do it," McClure said.

"I can't string 'em up or nail 'em to something or use that old stretching machine they had in medieval days and say, 'You're going to do this or else.' But I'm close to that point."