Monday, June 10, 2013
George Brett repaying the Royals
By Buster Olney
|George Brett feels that he owes the Royals so much, and he wants to give back to them.|
George Brett’s Hall of Fame story was well-known to Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore before he talked to Brett last month, again, about joining the Kansas City coaching staff.
Drafted by the Royals in the second round in 1971, Brett was something of a mess early in his big league career, and he was sent back to the minors with a reputation as something of a know-it-all. He surrendered completely to the instruction of hitting coach Charlie Lau and became one of baseball’s all-time great third baseman -- 3,154 hits, 317 homers, four top-3 finishes in the MVP voting, a day of honor at Cooperstown.
Brett has been joining the team in spring training for years, and there has been nothing ceremonial about his work there. He has arrived early, thrown batting practice and put in a full day -- and he came back to do it again and again. So Moore knew that if Brett became a coach, he would be all-in.
That said, what Brett has done since taking over as the Royals’ interim hitting coach 12 days ago has stunned Moore.
"It’s been amazing," said Moore. "His energy. His passion. He interacts with every single player on the team, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a hitter or a pitcher. Incredible."
There are many miles to go before anybody can know whether Brett’s work and presence will make a difference in the standings or reignite the ascension of the dormant Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas into young stars. But the early signs are good: Hosmer has been getting better in recent days, writes Dick Kaegel, and is hitting .367 in June.
Brett asked to be named on an interim basis because he wants Moore to have an out if this experiment fails. But Moore loves what he sees: Brett showing up early, getting into the cages, getting to work, talking to players in his enthusiastic manner. The other day, Brett walked around the field with Moustakas, just talking, for 45 minutes.
He hasn’t been talking about drastic changes with hitting mechanics. "Really, it’s about a mindset and an approach," Moore said. "They’ve lost the swagger a little bit."
So Brett talks, and they listen and absorb. During Brett’s career, the Royals were in the playoffs seven times, winning the World Series in 1985. "After being around George," said Moore, "I know why they won."
There are about 100 games left in the season, so it’s still early. The Royals are 28-32, 6.5 games out of first place, which might seem like a lot more if not for recent examples of teams digging themselves out of April and May rubble. On this date a year ago, the Tigers had the exact same record as the Royals do today, and they played in the World Series. On June 10 of last season, Oakland was 26-35, and charged back to win the American League West.
The Royals might not get there. Hosmer and Moustakas may or may not continue to struggle. Brett’s work could disappear as an almost forgotten footnote to a career that will be recounted time and again long after his life ends. But he will try.
On his way to 3,000 hits, Brett was once asked how he’d like to reach the milestone, and he said, tellingly, that he wanted to hit a ground ball on the right side of the infield and beat a throw to first.
When Moore talked to him over the phone about joining the staff, Brett explained his reason for accepting the job. "I owe everything to the Royals," he said: his livelihood, his family, his home. His life.
Of course he will try.
The Royals' winning streak has reached five games, after their weekend sweep of the Houston Astros.
Around the league
• The Atlanta Braves have a really tough decision on the horizon, a really great problem to have and yet still wrenching: With Brandon Beachy just about ready to come back, what do they do with their rotation, which already has five healthy, productive members?
David O’Brien addresses the question in this piece.
"I don’t know -- that’s my honest-to-God answer," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Sunday. "I don’t think there’s a clear-cut answer right now. And I don’t want to say, ‘Let’s see what happens,’ because people think, ‘Fredi’s hoping somebody gets hurt.’ And I don’t want that. I want everybody to be pitching healthy and then we’ve got to come up with some kind of plan. But right now we don’t have a plan."
Tim Hudson, the dean of the staff, is not going to pitch out of the bullpen. Mike Minor has been the team’s best starter, and he isn’t going to lose his spot.
That leaves Kris Medlen, Julio Teheran and Paul Maholm. So long as Maholm remains with the team, he’ll continue to start, but because Maholm is a free agent at the end of the year, Atlanta always has the option of marketing the left-hander and probably getting good return. "If he was on the trade market," said one evaluator, "he might be the best guy out there [before the July 31 trade deadline]."
But history is littered with examples of teams that appeared to have too much starting pitching, only to lose it rapidly to injuries -- most recently, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who had nine starters near the end of spring training but have been scrambling to fill their rotation all season. So the idea of trading Maholm, a healthy and productive pitcher, would be really tough for Atlanta, and the Braves might not get enough to offset the value of what he could mean to them the rest of this year and into the postseason.
I thought the Braves might go to a six-man rotation, to buy time for an injury to resolve their surplus and to give a little midseason rest to Teheran, Hudson and the others, but Gonzalez said the other day that he doesn’t intend to do that.
So that means somebody will probably be moved to the bullpen. Will it be Teheran, who seems to be just beginning to flourish as a starter? Or Medlen, who has been much improved in recent starts and showed in the second half of last season just how great he can be? Or could it be Beachy?
And undoubtedly, the Braves could use an eighth-inning set-up man, with swing-and-miss stuff. Medlen is really good against lefties; Beachy can be dominant; and Teheran throws strikes.
There are almost 30 other teams that would kill for this problem. How good has Atlanta’s rotation been?
From Elias: Minor’s start on Sunday was the ninth straight game that Atlanta’s starting pitchers allowed two or fewer earned runs, matching the Braves’ longest such streak over the past 12 seasons; in 10 straight games from April 11-21, 2001, Atlanta starters were charged with no more than two earned runs (Greg Maddux, John Burkett, Tom Glavine, Kevin Millwood and Odalis Perez).
David O’Brien has more on the Braves’ forthcoming decision here.
• Yasiel Puig might be moved into the cleanup spot.
• Washington GM Mike Rizzo doesn’t think there’s anything to worry about with Bryce Harper’s knee. The Nationals had a great day, sweeping a doubleheader.
'Sunday Night Baseball'
• In the end, the St. Louis Cardinals blew out the Reds on "Sunday Night Baseball," scoring seven runs in the 10th inning, punctuated by Matt Holliday's monstrous grand slam, estimated at 464 feet.
The Cardinals had 16 at-bats with runners in scoring position and had six hits, which is just standard operating procedure for St. Louis this year. The Reds have a really good team, but at this juncture in the season, there appears to be a gap not only between the Cardinals and their division rivals but also between the Cards and the rest of the baseball.
The Cardinals have an incredibly deep and disciplined lineup devoted to tough at-bats and taking the ball to the middle and the opposite field; they’ve got the No. 1 starters’ ERA, by far; and at the end of games they have Trevor Rosenthal and his fast-developing changeup in the eighth inning and Edward Mujica and his finished changeup in the ninth. That’s the best team we’ve seen this year on "Sunday Night Baseball," and right now I don’t think there’s anybody close.
Now, the Cardinals have a young pitching staff, and so in time we’ll know whether Shelby Miller can maintain his share of innings. Manager Mike Matheny made it clear that he’s aware of this question and will adjust, as needed. The same question applies to Michael Wacha, another impressive rookie starter. Their bullpen seems a little soft in the middle, like most bullpens. But St. Louis is building something great so far in 2013.
Miller and Brandon Phillips are guests on today’s podcast.
• Bronson Arroyo passed on this video of himself at 8 years old, working out with his father, Gus -- doing some dead lifting, boxing a bag. Arroyo told me yesterday, "Good thing I’ve got the video, or nobody would believe it."
• Twice during the course of Sunday’s game, Phillips ranged far out into the outfield to grab high flies. He actually practices this every day: At the end of his daily routine, Phillips asks a coach to hit a high pop into the outfield so he can work on reacting and getting out as far as he can to get the ball.
• After Sunday’s game, Carlos Beltran chartered a plane to fly to Puerto Rico, where he was to attend this morning’s graduation of the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy. From Derrick Goold’s notebook:
The academy has been called by friends as his passion project, and this year’s class of 44 boys is the first to graduate from the high school Beltran founded. All have commitments to play college baseball.
"I’ve got to do it. I’ve got to be there. The kids are expecting me to be there," Beltran said. "And I want to see the looks on their faces, their parents’ faces, the smiles."
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Uber-prospect Miguel Sano has been promoted to Double-A.
2. The Mets had seen enough, and demoted Ike Davis.
3. The writing is on the wall for instant replay to happen, says Mike Matheny.
4. A Japanese team had interest in Alex Rodriguez.
5. Zack Wheeler could debut alongside Matt Harvey.
6. Tyler Moore was optioned to Triple-A.
Dings and dents
1. Sean Marshall has benefited from rest.
2. Ryan Braun came out of Sunday’s game with a thumb injury.
3. Clay Buchholz could miss his next start, writes Julian Benbow.
4. Will Middlebrooks continues to make progress with his injury rehabilitation.
5. Matt Harvey says his back is fine.
6. Kevin Youkilis' back tightened up. It appears that he and the Yankees will be dealing with this issue all summer.
7. The Phillies are now without their top two catchers.
8. Hanley Ramirez had an MRI on his hamstring.
9. Jed Gyorko suffered a groin injury, as old friend Bill Center writes.
10.Alexi Ogando landed on the disabled list, again, and Evan Grant wonders if his spot in the rotation is in jeopardy.
11.Logan Morrison was activated.
1. Tigers rookie Jose Alvarez put on a show, writes Drew Sharp.
2. Hector Santiago was The Man for the White Sox.
3. Dexter Fowler gave the Rockies a wild win.
• It wasn’t Matt Moore’s best day. After posting a 2.18 ERA through his first 11 starts, he has allowed 14 runs over seven innings in his last two outings.
The Rays’ need their rotation to find its rhythm, writes Martin Fennelly.
• David Ortiz and the Red Sox took down another series.
• Wil Myers looks ready for the big leagues, but has nowhere to play in the Rays’ lineup.
• Jose Bautista blew up, and the Blue Jays blew a lead. Here’s video of his ejection.
• Buck Showalter spoke with Chris Tillman after Sunday’s game.
• Mariano Rivera bid goodbye to a ballpark in which he had a lot of success.
• The Indians have fallen and they can’t get up, as Paul Hoynes writes: That’s seven straight defeats, and counting.
Their 11 consecutive road losses is tied for the third-longest road losing streak in franchise history.
Terry Francona isn't ready to call a team meeting.
• Bruce Rondon has been throwing with more consistency in the minors, writes Lynn Henning.
• The Twins were hit hard by a former Twin.
• And on the 18th day, the Athletics rested. Going into Sunday’s game, Oakland’s record in its previous 162 regular-season games (dating back to June 14, 2012): 103-59.
• The Mariners might be making more changes.
• Joe Blanton’s record is 1-10.
• Learn more about the Astros' draft class here.
• The Mets and Marlins played 20 innings on Saturday and followed that up with 10 innings on Sunday. According to Elias, it was just the fifth time in the last 80 years (and first since 1989) that two teams followed up a 20-inning game with another extra-inning game.
• Edwin Jackson is relaxed.
• Gerrit Cole’s Triple-A coaches believe he’s ready to help.
• Tony Sanchez has helped to rebuild his prospect status.
• Daniel Hudson wants to pitch again.
• The Giants left Arizona with a much-needed dose of momentum, as Tony Jackson writes. A youngster had an immediate impact for the Giants, as Alex Pavlovic writes.
• The Rangers’ Michael Kirkman is again fighting cancer.
• Chipper Jones apologized for something he tweeted.
• The Orioles have become a popular choice among All-Star voters.
• John Stearns is one of my favorite people I’ve met in baseball: He's a bad dude. When he was a coach in Baltimore, some of the Orioles players got ahold of a videotape of him playing football in college and had many laughs at his style of play: He didn’t really adhere to a scheme, he just hit people, really hard.
• Vanderbilt did not hit with runners in scoring position, and the Commodores’ season is over sooner than they hoped; congratulations to Louisville.
And today will be better than yesterday.