Royals shuffle duties among coaching staff
TORONTO -- Almost a year ago to the day that the Royals had a shakeup of hitting coaches, they've done it again.
The Royals announced on Thursday that Dale Sveum, who had been the third-base coach, will take over as hitting coach. Pedro Grifol, who had been hitting coach, becomes the club's catching instructor.
In addition, Mike Jirschele takes over the third-base coaching duties. He had been a coach at large in his first year on the staff.
"It was just time to do something. We needed to do something. We couldn't keep going the way we were going," manager Ned Yost said.
It was on May 30, 2013, that the slumping Royals brought in Hall of Famer George Brett to be interim hitting coach with Grifol as his assistant. They replaced hitting coach Jack Maloof and his assistant Andre David, who were in their first year as coaches. They were reassigned to the Minor League staff.
"We're going through the exact same things we were going through a year ago," Yost said.
When the Royals arrived in Toronto on Thursday, they ranked last in the American League in runs (197) home runs (21) and slugging percentage (.348). They were second-last in on-base percentage (.306).
Sveum was asked what was at the root of the Royals' travail.
"The bottom line is we're struggling with elevation and we've swung at pitches down in the zone, probably way too much," Sveum said. "From thigh high to the top of the strike zone, we're not doing enough damage on pitches like that."
Sveum was the Milwaukee Brewers' hitting coach for three years (2009-2011). He also served on Yost's coaching staff when Yost managed the Brewers and succeeded Yost as manager when he was dismissed late in the 2008 season.
During Sveum's tenure as hitting coach, the Brewers ranked in top three in National League homers each year and led the league with 185 homers in 2011.
"Dale's had three years of experience [as hitting coach] with Milwaukee where he really helped that club, in my view anyway," Yost said.
"He got Prince Fielder to the next level as a premier offensive performer, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart. He developed Casey McGehee from a career Minor Leaguer to a 30 home-run-a-year guy. He's had experience doing it before. He's studied hitting his whole life, he's a really good hitting coach."
McGehee's home-run high actually was 23 with the Brewers, but Yost's point was that Sveum has a good track record of improving hitters.
"It's a tough job," Sveum said. "The tenure of our jobs are not very long most of the time and the hitting coach is always the worst of it. In our case, thank God, nobody lost their job over this. We were able to rotate around."
After last year's shakeup, the Royals' fortunes turned better after a horrible 8-20 record in May and, after two months, Brett decided full-time coaching was not his cup of tea and stepped away, and Grifol moved up to take over. And for the rest of the season, he earned high praise for his work.
"I don't know," Yost said. "He's the one that got us out last year and got us going. Then we get back in the exact same thing. Everybody has a tremendous amount of respect for Pedro and what he brings to the park every single day because he's a phenomenal baseball person. He's got expertise in all areas. He's one of the smartest baseball guys I know. But that's the big question."
Grifol will concentrate on working with catcher Salvador Perez and his backup, Brett Hayes, relieving bench coach Don Wakamatsu of that responsibility.
"Pedro was a catcher coming up and was a phenomenal guy, and we want to continue to develop Sal to the next level in his game calling and his blocking balls in the dirt and receiving, and Pedro is very detailed and very good at all that," Yost said.
"Pedro will run the catchers and be with me and Wak on the bench because his in-game expertise is invaluable, too."
Jirschele also will take over Sveum's responsibilities of coaching the team's infielders. During his 14 years of managing Triple-A Omaha, he was the third-base coach. Jirschele recently filled in as first-base coach while Rusty Kuntz was out with an arm fracture.
"It's something I've done for years. My whole managerial career, I coached third base," Jirschele said. "Of course it's faster at the Major League level, but I've been here now and third base is third base."
Yost said he informed the coaches of the changes on Thursday.
"I've been thinking about it for a couple of days," he said.
"It's never on the coaches. I never blame a coach for a player who's struggling production-wise. Coaches are important to help with the mental side of the game and the mechanical side of the game, but the players have to go out and do it.
"At this level, guys are real receptive but they're stubborn, too, which makes them good. They got here by doing something really well. So you work within those confines and figure ways for them to develop and grow, and be as productive as they possibly can."