7/28/2013 1:45 P.M. ET
Shields picky about pegging runners at first
Royals ace has become one of best pickoff artists in Major Leagues
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- It's a pitcher's tool and a potent weapon, but it's an art difficult to master. It's the pickoff move.
Consider the Royals' James Shields one of the masters. He nipped the White Sox's Alejandro De Aza off first base in Friday night's 5-1 victory for his second pickoff of the season. It was the 26th of his career, tied for fifth most in the Majors since he came up in 2006.
"I learned this craft in 2001, my second year in pro ball. I've been using it ever since," Shields said. "I feel like identifying leads at first base is a big part of my game ever since and it's kind of evolved into more of a recognition thing rather than trying to get any better. I've always had quick feet, I just never realized what was going on over there."
A key element for Shields is recognizing how big of a lead a runner is taking. This he does by measuring the "cutout" into the grass that each field has in front of first base. The length varies from ballpark to ballpark so he makes it his business to know the difference.
If you watch Shields, he has an unusual stretch motion that begins with a "dip" during which he gets a good view of the runner at first base. His pitching pal who also came over from Tampa Bay, Wade Davis, also uses it.
"We do it because you can't identify a lead with your peripheral vision," Shields said. "You come set and your peripheral vision only measures movement, it doesn't measure distance. So when we do that, we look with both of our eyes. So when we look with both our eyes, we can judge and measure the distance on where they're at. So when we come set, if we see movement and they take one step to their right, we know what kind of a lead they have before we come set. So if they take one step to the right, we know they've got a bigger step. If they're one step to the left, we know exactly how far they are."
Shields developed his move with the help of Minor League coach Dick Bosman.
It's not necessarily how many runners are actually picked off, it's that they know the move is there and could be used. So they're more cautious, take shorter leads and are less likely to try a stolen base.
Since Shields came on the scene in '06, left-hander Mark Buehrle is the pickoff leader with 56 runners nailed. Shields is tied for fifth in that span with teammate Bruce Chen and Atlanta's Paul Maholm, also with 26 each. But everybody else in the top five are lefties -- Shields is the only right-hander.
Shields believes the importance of a good pickoff move is undervalued.
"I think every pitcher needs to have a decent pickoff move or just know what's going on over there," he said. "For one, you're going to keep the guy at bay, you're going to be able to set up your double plays, they're not going to steal bags off you and get runners in scoring position. And I treat it as another pitch."
Shields is not one of those pitchers who makes lazy throw after lazy throw to first base, trying to keep a runner close. He only does it when it counts.
"I don't believe in wasting throws," he said.
On Friday night, for example, Shields snapped off a throw that very nearly caught De Aza. Immediately, he threw again -- and got his man.
Cain nursing groin tightness after hitting wall
CHICAGO -- Center fielder Lorenzo Cain was out of the Royals' starting lineup on Sunday with left groin tightness, the result of a play in which he ran down Jeff Keppinger's drive in the White Sox seventh on Saturday night.
"It was something similar when I ran into the wall at Oakland that time," Cain said, referring to his mishap in April 2012. "I went into the wall and kind of felt something in my left groin. So we're kind of day to day right now."
With an off-day Monday at Minneapolis, Cain expects to be back in the lineup on Tuesday night against the Twins.
Cain was kept busy in Saturday night's 1-0 victory, making five catches all over the outfield.
"That's what I'm out there for, to cover real estate. I'm just trying to make plays out there," he said. "We're having fun and our pitchers did a great job in a 1-0 ballgame and we were able to get the win. That's huge."
It was Cain's double down the left-field line that knocked in the game's only run. He was feeling good enough to be available as a pinch-hitter on Sunday.
Lough's amazing catch saves Royals' win
CHICAGO -- If Royals right fielder David Lough had missed Jeff Keppinger's fast-sinking liner and it got past him in the ninth inning on Saturday night, the game likely would've been over with two White Sox runners scoring.
"That's the last thing I'm thinking about. You think that and you do miss it," Lough said.
And it never crossed his mind to try to concede the hit and the tying run by hanging back and playing the ball on one hop.
"No," he said. "You just go for it. That's all I was thinking."
A bonus was that the runner at third base, Alex Rios, failed to tag up and couldn't score after the catch so the Royals' 1-0 lead was preserved.
"It's a do-and-die. You win it or you lose it," manager Ned Yost said. "What's amazing is he ran and when he dove for it -- I looked at the replay -- he had to reach across his body and hold it. Just a great play, it saved the game for us."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.