Royals manager Ned Yost chalks up funk to leadership void, immaturity

Royals manager Ned Yost chalks up funk to leadership void, immaturity

05/28/2014 6:17 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

One observer with considerable investment in the Royals was insistently asked to leave his perch at Kauffman Stadium Tuesday night.

So he turned to television for the final innings of their trudge to defeat against Houston, giving him the same vantage point as many other exasperated followers.

“Some of the pitches we were swinging at; some of the outs we were making …,” he said, almost with wonder. “Sometimes, like all fans, you get impatient and want it now.”

And that’s how manager Ned Yost on Wednesday accounted for the blunt tone he had used the night before about his team’s barren offense, the tightening albatross that is his job to solve.

That was just part of a Wednesday pre-game session with Yost in which he served up a blend of theories and insights as to what’s impeding a promising team that tumbled to 24-28 on Wednesday with an unsightly 9-3 loss to Houston.

Yost candidly clarified his frustration, pointedly suggested the team is suffering from a leadership void among its hitters and conceded it’s time to grow up.

“There’s a lot to deal with, but growing up is learning how to deal with it all, then still being productive,” Yost said.

Inadvertently, his allusion to players having to deal with the advent of the Internet (which has been in vogue for, oh, about a generation now) and contending with the “fish bowl” of publicity was even more telling testimony to his perception of the group’s immaturity.

“You know if we could shut all you guys (in the media) out and only deal with playing the game inside this locker room, or insulate it from all that, it would be better …” he said, not confrontationally. “But that’s not the way of the world.”

Yost’s thoughts were spurred by a question about his sharp message Tuesday night.

That had been a rant only in the sense of the bite with which he noted his team doesn’t do “what successful big-league hitters do” and acknowledged covering for his players at times when they don’t hit well.

That’s akin to a public flogging from Yost, who has determined that being “positive, positive, positive” with and about his team is essential.

So Yost was slightly contrite about publicly betraying his internal conflict over finding the right approach to his team’s confounding lack of productivity.

“At times when you lose your patience, or get frustrated like I did last night, it’s counter-productive,” he said.

“But, still, there’s times where you’ve got to wake up,” he added, clapping his hands. “You know?

“But you can’t do it all the time, because it loses its effectiveness.”

Of course, it’s about time something becomes effective for the Royals, who have gone from treading water to churning it as they set off for a six-game road swing to Toronto and St. Louis.

Despite a poor outing by starter Danny Duffy on Wednesday, Yost correctly pins the crux of their issues on absence of run production … and the consequences of that.

“Our club revolves around the offense. It does. When the offense isn’t producing, it makes every phase of our game more difficult,” he said. “The starting pitchers go out and know that if they give up a run or two they’re probably in trouble. If the bullpen goes out and gives up a run, … (it’s), ‘Can we get that run back?’

“So you take away the freedom from the pitching staff to go out and not worry about giving up a run or two, which always makes you better. … (And) even though we’ve got a tremendous defense, when they’re not hitting, as hard as they try, their mind kind of gravitates to hitting more than it gravitates to defense when they’re on the field. So all of a sudden, you start to get a little sloppier defensively. …

“So the task is to get this thing turned around offensively and get to where they’re feeling good about themselves, and it changes the whole complexion of the way we play.”

A big part of this, as stressed by Yost and general manager Dayton Moore on Tuesday, is seemingly remedial stuff along the lines of working optimal pitch counts.

It’s inexplicable, really, that it’s that hard for those basics to seep through, especially considering that this team simply can’t be seen as young anymore and that a handful of them have had some success at the big-league level.

But it’s something Yost obviously has to decipher.

Maybe having five hitting coaches (including George Brett’s stint last season) in two years has made it hard for players to sort out the voices in their heads; maybe current coach Pedro Grifol isn’t quite cracking the code, or maybe players are being resistant to coaching.

In the end, only those in the clubhouse know those answers.

Yost didn’t say any of that, but he acknowledged that the preaching isn’t permeating even as he advocated sustaining the message.

“They’re going to get it. Sooner or later …,” he said. “You can’t say it one time. Sometimes you’ve got to say it 50 times. Sometimes you’ve got to say it 75 times.

“And then the next guy comes in and says it one time,” he added, snapping his fingers, “and it clicks.”

There was room for interpretation of what Yost meant by the “next guy,” which may arouse suspicions of a looming staff change ahead but likely was merely a reference to another voice in the clubhouse.

More clearly, Yost would prefer the Royals’ most-respected hitters be more involved, both by being more vocal generally and more willing to take others to task for fundamental lapses.

“We’ve got James Shields (as) your ‘Type A’ personality that really is a group leader for the pitchers,” he said. “And our group leader for our hitters is a real quiet guy, Alex Gordon. He’s not the kind of guy who’s going to get in your face unless he really loses it, right?”

To some extent, second baseman Omar Infante has provided that for Latin players.

“But Omar does it in a different part of the world,” Yost said, evidently referring to language barriers.

It’s clear that Yost believes Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler are the most natural candidates to emerge. When he meets with players, he said, generally it’s with those three.

“And we talk about things that they can do to become better leaders …,” he said. “But … you are who you are.”

Trouble is, right now this is who the Royals are: a team with good starting pitching, a terrific closer and a lineup composed mostly of players who are under-performing when most need to have peak seasons.

And that’s going to have to get figured out soon, Yost said after the game, “Or we’re going to be in trouble.”

Send Vahe Gregorian email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/vgregorian.

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