Vahe Gregorian

May 29, 2014

Hitting coaches come and hitting coaches go ... especially for the Royals

The change from Pedro Grifol to Dale Sveum took place at the home park of Kevin Seitzer, whose dismissal started this whole merry-go-round. The Blue Jays, who lost to the Royals 8-6 Thursday despite hitting three homers off James Shields, entered the game atop the American League East, leading the AL in runs scored (268) and having blasted more home runs (76) than any team in baseball.

With the Royals’ offensive play closer to a farce than a force, manager Ned Yost explained why a change in hitting coaches was necessary.

“I think we’ve got a group of young power hitters who are capable of hitting home runs …,” he said. “Our offense was built more around singles and doubles, but it’s difficult to get three or four singles in a row to score a run.

“We have to have the ability to open it up a little more, use the power that we have to take advantage of a quick strike. A walk, a base hit and boom — there’s three runs. I think that’s the major difference in philosophy.”

Yost might have said those very words on Thursday, when the Royals demoted Pedro Grifol to make Dale Sveum their sixth hitting coach in about 20 months.

But it actually was what he said in October 2012 when he announced the firing of Kevin Seitzer, after a season in which the Royals hit a puny 131 home runs … roughly twice as many as they were on pace for with 22 nearly a third of the way into the season.

There is a certain symmetry and irony to the timing of the latest scapegoating grope for hope.

For one thing, it came almost a day to the year since the Royals dumped Jack Maloof and Andre David and turned to George Brett (temporarily) and Grifol — a move that last year was seen as pivotal to revitalizing what would become the best season since 1989.

For another, the Blue Jays entered the game atop the American League East, leading the AL in runs scored (268) and having blasted more home runs (76) than any team in baseball.

With a little help from their hitting coach … Kevin Seitzer, the former Royals star.

This may or may not mean that Yost never should have dismissed Seitzer.

Though the evidence since suggests Seitzer was more serviceable than Yost recognized, there obviously are different variables in play in Toronto, including personnel and the parameters of the Rogers Centre.

But this juxtaposition certainly serves as a reminder of the inexact, even fickle, nature of that job.

More jarringly, it’s also a symbol of the common denominator in all this: the Royals ballyhooed young-ish hitters, who have been around too long now to have their unproductive play dismissed as the growing pains of promising prospects.

Is this about hitting coaches, or is it about a major miscalculation by Yost, that these players just aren’t as powerful as he believes?

Several times recently, he suggested that he’s confident the power will surge because he’s seen players driving the ball out with regularity during batting practice.

I’m sure he understands the physics of the game infinitely more than I do, but that seems like a reach.

This is hardly all about home runs, of course, but it is about the manager knowing his personnel and its strengths and limitations and realistic potential.

The carousel of hitting coaches is testimony to the contrary.

That doesn’t mean this particular change wasn’t the right move or won’t help, although most likely it will simply help some and not others, as usual. And it’s reasonable to wonder if some of the woes have come from a sort of gridlock of too many voices rattling in players’ heads already.

But as depressing as the Royals offense has become, with the team falling to a season-worst four games under .500 at 24-28 on Wednesday, it was at a critical mass.

Something had to give, and maybe this will be a jolt that lends some urgency to a group of hitters that Yost has acknowledged lack leadership and must grow up.

Certainly, it was encouraging to see the Royals smack 14 hits in their 8-6 win over Toronto on Thursday. But only time will tell if the gambit pays off.

And as Yost on Wednesday discussed different approaches to getting his team to wake up, he made a point of saying you can’t let that frustration show too often “because it loses its effectiveness.”

It’s hard not to wonder the same about changing hitting coaches again.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to

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