Royals’ bats come alive after Dale Sveum tapped as hitting coach
12/31/1840 4:00 AM
06/07/2014 10:51 AM
Less than a week ago, the Royals were paralyzed by their infuriatingly idle offensive game. Futility, not to mention desperation, seemed to be settling in when manager Ned Yost cast Dale Sveum as the team’s sixth man in the precarious job in less than two years.
So there apparently was little time or need for the long-time colleagues to conduct a touchy-feely chat about philosophy given the urgency of the matter.
Instead, the job-description talk evidently went something like this:
“‘I want freaking homers and doubles, and I want to score runs,’” Yost said. “‘Now, take it from there, Dale.’”
It’s absurdly early to draw any conclusions of where Sveum is taking this.
“Who knows?” Sveum said. “It’s a small sample.”
But the move at the very least seems to have helped spark a power surge, one that suddenly makes the Royals much more like the promising team they appeared to be than the one they’ve been most of the season.
On Tuesday at Busch Stadium, they rallied from a 4-0 deficit that might have been considered piling on only a week ago to beat St. Louis 8-7.
And it was furnished in large part by three doubles, a triple and Alex Gordon’s three-run homer.
“I don’t think (before) we hit three doubles, a triple and a homer in a week,” Yost said.
The game that concluded a 4-2 road trip also marked the fourth time in six games since Sveum took over that the Royals had scored six or more runs, a milestone they’d managed just 13 times in their first 52 games.
The home run was their fifth home run in the six games, a significant contrast to the 21 they’d mustered through their first 52.
“It’s just a different voice,” Yost said, “and I think it’s made a bit of a difference.”
Ultimately, only time will tell whether this is a coincidence, a mere fluke or something substantial and lasting.
Not only is the set small, but sandwiched in the middle of it were two games in which the Royals combined for two runs against Toronto.
And baseball is nothing if not confounding turns when trends seem to be emerging.
Still, it’s hard not to look at the Royals at least a bit differently now than after last week’s listless sweep at home by Houston, which came to Kauffman Stadium with the worst record in the American League.
Maybe it’s only in their minds, but that’s not a bad place to start.
And all before Sveum even has held a formal introductory meeting with his full group.
He plans to do that today when they return to Kauffman for the first time since he was promoted from third base coach as predecessor Pedro Grifol was moved aside to catching instructor.
And he’s hoping it will be one of the few meetings he ever conducts.
“You harp on certain little subjects, and what we need to get better, but the more meetings you have the worse you are,” said Sveum, who worked in the same capacity under Yost for three years in Milwaukee before managing the Chicago Cubs for two seasons.
He far prefers to do his “harping” on the field and in the clubhouse, where on Monday his style was on view as he casually spoke at the locker of first baseman Eric Hosmer.
While the main platform of his administration has been to eradicate the habit of chasing pitches down in the zone and work harder to find pitches to drive on favorable counts, Sveum also sees a bigger-picture element to the job.
“Some of these guys have just hit their whole life,” he said. “They never have really understood what it really is all about. And how success works.”
Among the elements of it, Sveum stresses, is having better senses of conviction about approach, pitch and situational recognition, and even how they see the ball.
“Some young hitters, they don’t know sometimes, ‘Oh, should I swing or not?’” he said. “And you’re defeated before you even got up there when you’re thinking about ‘should I or shouldn’t I?’
“So these are things it’s going to be a little process to maybe change mindsets on.”
Those mindsets have been tinkered with plenty the last few years, and beyond that Yost acknowledged there can be a fine line between “how much is too much and how much is not enough” to put into a hitter’s mind.
Even so, he said he was less concerned with too many voices echoing than with having wanted to “get it right.”
Whether the Royals have or not remains to be seen, and it’s reasonable to wonder how much a hitting coach means.
Still, the season looks rebooted just a week after it was at its low point, coincidence or not.
Even as he acknowledged Grifol’s continuing contribution, Gordon said: “Obviously, you’ve got to give (Sveum) credit. (Since) he came in, we’ve been swinging the bats well.”