Firing of hitting coach reflects Kansas City Royals’ broader issues, need for urgency

·4 min read
Jesse Newell, KC Star

The Royals on Monday fired hitting coach Terry Bradshaw, promoting emerging organizational star Alec Zumwalt on an interim basis to reset a sputtering offense.

In time, the jolt figures to enliven the Royals, who started the day 12-20 and 28th in Major League Baseball in runs scored and certainly in need of some sort of shock to the system.

But reiterating that there is no instant miracle cure to be had and that this runs deeper than just a change of voice, the Royals fell 5-3 to the White Sox in 10 innings on Monday at Kauffman Stadium.

Even so, this move reflected a certain critical mass that had been forming … and a realization that something tangible had to change.

Zumwalt, who was named the team’s director of hitting performance and player development in 2020, is well-known to the core of developing young players.

While it’s understood that he’s not a candidate for the permanent job, he was as logical as anyone to revitalize approaches that have seen the Royals frequently chasing pitches outside the strike zone and too often unable to produce with runners in scoring position.

“I think at the end of the day, we just felt like we needed more urgency …,” team president Dayton Moore said, later adding, “It’s not one person’s fault.”

So the real message is that the urgency is everyone’s responsibility at this pivotal time for the organization.

All are accountable, certainly, as Moore and general manager J.J. Picollo pointed out repeatedly on Monday. And it’s not just in one phase of the game, as Moore acknowledged when asked about the erratic development of young pitching that also is part of why the Royals had the worst ERA in the American League as of Monday.

“The pitching’s on me,” he said. “We rushed our young pitchers to the major leagues.”

More on that another day.

Meanwhile, though, this is also on the players themselves, as Whit Merrifield fully embraced on Monday.

“It cost a good man his job because we’re not playing to where we should be playing,” he said. “Yeah, it’s all on us.”

Calling hitting coach “probably the hardest job in professional sports,” Merrifield later added, “If we’re playing better, if we’re hitting better, what happened today probably doesn’t happen. We feel that. And that’s why it’s a sad day for us. Because we all loved Terry and feel responsible for what happened.”

Admirable as Merrifield’s stance was, it also speaks to the broader issue at hand:

While the Royals wait for youngsters like Bobby Witt Jr. and M.J. Melendez to find themselves at the major-league level, and for others in their loaded farm system to join them in the months or years to come, they’ve needed stability and production from those best-equipped to provide it.

That means from players who’ve had great past success such as Merrifield, who started the day hitting .183, and Sal Perez (.209) and Carlos Santana (.143).

If each were having a customary start to the season, chances are the Royals would have won three or four more games and we’d be having a different conversation about a team that was around .500.

“We think there were a lot of winnable games if we had taken better at-bats at the right time,” Picollo said, speaking generally.

But all of that, not one man, is indeed why this team stands at a crossroads of a rebuild, now in a thus-far exasperating fifth year with little sense of traction.

It’s also true that the Royals aren’t out of it yet, and that they haven’t played even a quarter of the season.

“That probably could have been the overarching conversation today …,” manager Mike Matheny said at the start of an eight-game homestand against divisional opponents. “We’ve got a long ways to go here.”

Something had to give to make a statement both to the team and fans, who have had every reason to be sour over the start of this season, that business as usual wasn’t acceptable.

As a front office, the Royals under Moore have been conditioned to demonstrate belief and patience and provide every opportunity to succeed.

“Then there’s a point where you feel like you do have to turn the page,” said Picollo, who is in his first year in this capacity and drove the decision to fire Bradshaw.

That made for both a sad circumstance but also what the Royals hope is a galvanizing point. Both in terms of Zumwalt’s new role for the moment and what’s implied by the shakeup.

“I think what this does convey to all of us, to all of us, me at the top of this list, is that there’s accountability,” Moore said. “And there comes a point in time when (time) runs out. And we’ve got to be more successful. And that goes for all of us.”

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