Kansas City, Mo. Barely able to sleep the night before, Ned Yost started his first day as Kansas City’s manager by shaking up the coaching staff and tweaking the lineup.
That’s it for the changes, at least for now.
Even with bevy of young talent in the minors and a big-league roster that’s produced one of the American League’s worst records, Yost isn’t ready to start tearing the walls down just yet.
“It’s like walking into a house for the first time,” he said Friday. “I can’t tell you where all the furniture is in the room, which faucets leak. I’ve got to be in the house a little bit, I’ve got to walk around, feel it, get a knowledge of it and then we can start making minute changes.”
Yost was named Kansas City’s manager Thursday night after Trey Hillman was fired following two-plus unsuccessful seasons.
The fiery former Milwaukee manager inherits a team with plenty of holes, from a bullpen that’s seemingly ready to implode with every pitch and a lineup that more base-to-base than bash.
His biggest task could be changing a losing mentality.
Kansas City hasn’t been to the playoffs since winning the 1985 World Series and has one winning record in 15 years. The Royals were 152-207 under Hillman and plummeted to the bottom of the AL Central at 12-23 after a seven-game losing streak that ended with a win over Cleveland Thursday night.
“They’re a tad bit shellshocked right now,” Yost said. “They kind of step on the field right now expecting something negative to happen and we need to change that mindset. We need to change that mindset of, ’jeez, I hope we can win’ to walking through that clubhouse door knowing deep in their heart they can win. That’s a bit of a process, but it’s not as big a process as you think.”
Yost started it Friday.
Hired to work in the front office in January, the 55-year-old Yost was on the road with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, Kansas City’s Double-A team, when he got the call from GM Dayton Moore about replacing Hillman.
Holed up in a hotel in Springfield, Mo., Yost went over the roster, looked at possible lineups, ways to make the team better. He went to bed at 3:30 a.m. and got up two hours later to start his first day of work.
His first move was to fire third base coach Dave Owen and promote Rusty Kuntz, who had been special assistant to the GM and an organizational instructor. Yost also moved Eddie Rodriguez from first base to third and will give him sole responsibility of coaching the infield.
Other than a couple of shifts in the lineup, that’s all he has planned for now.
The Royals have plenty of talented arms in the minors, including Mike Moustakas, Mike Montgomery, Aaron Crow, but Yost went through bringing up players too early in Milwaukee and doesn’t want to do it again if he doesn’t have to.
“Let’s see what we’ve got here first, let’s see if we can’t get things turned around,” Yost said. “Those kids are coming, no doubt about that. But to make wholesale changes and go that route now, I don’t believe it.”
Yost does know a thing or two about winning.
A scrappy catcher, he spent parts of six seasons with Milwaukee, Texas and Montreal.
Yost then spent 12 seasons under the tutelage of Bobby Cox in Atlanta, where the Braves won the division title every year except the strike-shortened season in 1994. He got his first big-league managing job with the Brewers in 2003 and went 457-502 before being fired late in the 2008 season.
“Ned is a great manager, a great baseball person,” said Royals catcher Jason Kendall, who played for Yost in Milwaukee. “He’s very intense.”
Yost may be best known for being fired by a team still in playoff contention.
It happened in 2008, when the Brewers fell into a funk that threatened to ruin their first playoff appearance since 1982. With fans complaining about his managerial style — particularly a penchant to stick too long with slumping players — Yost became the scapegoat and was fired with just 12 games left in the season.
Milwaukee went on sneak into the playoffs under interim coach Dale Sveum and Yost was given time to reflect.
“It took awhile to unwind after all that,” he said. “I learn lessons from that, too, how to maybe control that a little bit. I don’t want to take that (intensity) away from myself because I think that’s a plus. I think I have a knack of motivating players, getting the best out of players, but it’s a process.”