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Curious Decisions By Ned Yost

It would be easy to second guess a couple of Ned Yost’s decisions last night. If you did so, you’d be right. Last night was not his finest game as manager of the Royals, but the positive we can take from that statement is that it wasn’t that bad. With Trey Hillman, last night’s decisions would have been an indication of progress. Fortunately for the Royals, that’s not the baseline we have to expect anymore as Ned Yost is a much better manager than Trey Hillman ever was. Before I get into Ned Yost, I want to look at last night’s game a little bit. Before I get into that, we need to talk about what will be the Royals Achilles’ heel all season long if they don’t get it fixed.

A lot of people who skew toward the statistical analysis side of the spectrum like to scoff at situational hitting. I do it sometimes. When people talk about a team doing it the right way and making productive outs, it makes me gag a little bit. The purpose of baseball is to score runs, not a run, and sometimes I think some teams and some people put too much emphasis on the individual run. Obviously a big inning is better than a one run inning, but sometimes, even we stat people have to concede that one run is important. For the Royals, the struggle comes with a runner on third and less than two outs. It’s been a struggle of the Royals for years, it seems. They need to do a better job of getting the ball in the air to the outfield and driving in the run with an out. If they had done that last night, the game never would have gone into extra innings, Robinson Tejeda never would have been summoned to pitch and the Royals would presumably be 7-3 rather than 6-4.

This is where my first criticism of Ned Yost comes into play. Yost rightfully decided that Kila Ka’aihue needed a day off against a tough left-handed pitcher. Realistically, one day off should become two with Liriano going for the Twins in the series finale. Because of this, the best power hitter on the team was sitting on the bench tonight, which I have no problem with. In the top of the seventh, the Royals failed to get home a runner from third with less than two outs and ended up leaving the top of the seventh with the score tied. Once you get past around the sixth spot in the Royals order, it gets a little bit tough to expect big things. Aviles is fine, but right now is terrible. Pena is fine, but truthfully just about average. And right now Escobar is showing that his glove better be damn good. Why not pinch hit Ka’aihue? Even if he has to face a lefty, there’s nobody on the team that has a better chance of launching a homer. Okay, I’ve got that off my chest; now let’s move on to my real complaint of the evening.

I’m not someone who looks at a game in hindsight and determines what was the right call and what wasn’t. Okay, I am, but I’m not someone who typically harps on things like that anymore. I probably used to be, but I’m evolving as a fan. My criticism of Yost last night is not something that utilizes hindsight. He screwed up, and I knew it before it happened. In the tenth inning, Tim Collins struck out Justin Morneau and with two righties to follow, he went to the bullpen. Had he gone to Joakim Soria, the decision would have been the right one no matter the outcome. He went to Robinson Tejeda who has not been effective this year. Sure, coming into last night he had a 3.38 ERA which is fine, but all the peripherals suggested that he was due for a fall. Also, just by watching him you could tell that he wasn’t right.

So Tejeda comes in and gives up a single before he starts to get wild. He walks Michael Cuddyer on four pitchers, and at this point you can tell that he absolutely does not have it. This is the point where you’ve got to get him out there. In the bottom of the tenth inning, a pitcher who can’t throw a strike is a very dangerous thing, and this is not the first time in his career that Tejeda has needed more than a GPS to find the strike zone.  Well, you all know what happened next. He allowed a very long single that Francouer probably should have caught, but it would have been an amazing catch. That loaded the bases and then Danny Valencia (who is quickly becoming one of my least favorite players) singled to right center to drive home the game winner. I don’t have a problem with putting Tejeda in the game. He’s been good for the Royals for a couple of years now, and in spite of his early season struggles is still one of the more experienced pitchers in the Royals bullpen. Right now, though, Yost needs to have a quick trigger on getting him out of the game because he can implode quickly.

Some of the complaints we heard about Yost when he became Royals manager were that he wasn’t great with bullpen management. The interesting thing is that I’ve seen that as one of his strengths since taking over the helm of the Royals. Of course I may be comparing him to his predecessor who was about as bad at everything managerial as someone can be. Last night, though, made me think of those comment from Brewers people when they mentioned that Yost sticks with people for too long and often goes to the wrong reliever based on the situation. Tejeda isn’t a choice I would have made, but I can understand why he went to him. What I don’t get is why he stuck with him. That’s got to change for the Royals to be successful. The thing is that maybe Yost’s bullpen management hasn’t been that great in the early going, but it’s the pitchers who make it look good. If that’s the case, then I’m not too worried because the Royals are going to have a good bullpen for a long time based on the prospects in the minors.

I do like Yost’s managerial style. I like that he sticks with players until he’s left no choice but to give them time to clear his head. The other day in Detroit, Ka’aihue looked awful against Phil Coke. It wasn’t the results so much as how he got to the results. So, after on off-day Monday, Kila sat yesterday and will hopefully sit today before getting to come back home and get hot again. I like that. I like that Yost sticks with the hot hand and that Betemit is continuing to play and hit. I like that he’s not afraid to make a change in the leadoff spot, which is a spot that he talks about being so important. Chris Getz is there right now and excelling, but I have faith that if and when he stops excelling there that Yost will try someone else there. It goes against a lot of the criticisms we heard from Brewers people, but that might be him growing as a manager.

Last night was a blip for him, and it’s one that I hope doesn’t continue. People can speculate whether Tejeda is hurt or not hurt, but the fact of the matter is that he’s just not effective right now. I don’t think he’s earned the track record to be allowed to work through this in the eighth inning while the team holds a one-run lead or in the tenth inning of a tie game. I would have gone to Jeffress last night and lived or died with his 100 MPH heat. I said it at the time and I stick by my assertion. Now, if Soria’s rough patch becomes more than a rough patch and he struggles, he’s got the track record to work things out for awhile. Tejeda, though, needs to be put in less pressure filled situations for awhile. Or maybe he is hurt and needs to spend some time on the DL and then on a rehab assignment. The thing we know is that he’s a good pitcher when right. He’s just not right at this point.

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