Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hillman May Be Ready to Move On

I think Trey Hillman is ready to be done. I can feel it.

The manager of the Royals looks tired. He looks confused. When his decisions are questioned, he seems to get defensive, and there's a look about him that gives you the feeling he may not really want to manage this team anymore.

Royals fans have seen this before.

The Royals just completed their longest road trip of the season, after a 6-4 loss to the Texas Rangers on Sunday. They went 3-8 on the trip, including getting swept in a four game series by Texas, and have currently lost five straight. They now find themselves, somehow, ten games under .500 at 11-21, last in the A.L. Central and 11.5 games back of the first place Minnesota Twins.

Yep. Sounds familiar.

Obviously, it's not all Hillman's fault. Not even close. The numerous bad free-agent signings made by GM Dayton Moore in the last couple of off-seasons have been well documented. The failure to develop sure-thing prospects certainly can't be blamed on the manager, either. The talent on the current major league roster is average at best.

Nevertheless, the Royals aren't average. They're not even bad. Ten games under .500 after five weeks of the season is horrendous.

Yet they're still third in the A.L. in hitting. The bullpen has somewhat seemed to settle down. Their starters are giving them a chance to win at, the very least, an average rate. So what gives?

Inevitably, yet fairly, we must look to the manager.

. . .

I found Saturday night's game versus Texas an especially frustrating one to watch.

Let's jump to the top of the seventh inning. It's a tie game. The Royals have a runner at third, two outs, and first baseman Kila Ka'aihue, getting his first start of the season, is due up. There's a lefty on the mound, and Kila is a left-handed hitter. Hillman had given Jose Guillen the night off, so he's available to pinch hit. Hillman does use Guillen as a pinch hitter, and he fails to drive the run in.

Now, if you're down by one or two runs in that situation, it seems pretty obvious to me that you send Guillen up to hit. He's your best power hitter and can tie the game or take the lead with one swing.

In a tie game though, there are many cons to that decision. Firstly, if you need a pinch hit later in the game, possibly in extra innings as the game looked to be destined for, you no longer have Guillen available. Secondly, unless you want to take Guillen's bat out of the lineup for the rest of the game, you have to put him in the field somewhere, and I can't figure anyone liking the idea of that.

Hillman chose to leave Guillen in the game and put him in right field, moving David DeJesus to left field, and moving Scott Podsednik from left field to center field. That forced Mitch Maier (who had made two spectacular plays in the game at center field already) to move to first base.

Maier, an above-average center fielder, had never played first base in a major league game before Saturday. DeJesus hadn't played left field since last season. And, of course, Guillen has proven to be worthy of the designated hitter role eternally.

Now, all the sudden, the Royals had four players (including Podsednik) who are either below average at their position or haven't played the position they're at this season - and of course, in Maier's case, any season.

The alternative to all this defensive shuffling would have been to simply use Willie Bloomquist in place of Guillen after his pinch hit at-bat, and put him at first base where Ka'aihue was playing. You then have generally your best defensive lineup in for the game's final few innings. More on that in a moment.

. . .

It's the bottom of the eighth now, and Gil Meche is easily having his best pitching performance of the season. He's already over 100 pitches, though. Given his injury history, it's a mere certainty Hillman will go to the bullpen now. Also, Meche has struggled all season, and it's important for him to leave the game on a good note.

Oddly, Hillman chooses to stay with Meche for the eighth. The first batter walks. It's the sixth free pass he's given out on the night. The camera moves to Hillman, who looks ready to walk out of the dugout and pull Meche. Usually, when managers stretch their starters this long, it only takes a baserunner to get the hook.

Instead, Hillman stays with Meche. The baserunner is caught stealing, so the decision seems to be vindicated, at least for the moment. The next batter walks. It's Meche's seventh of the game. The camera goes to Hillman, who again remains in the dugout. Two arms are ready in the bullpen if the manager needs them. Not yet, though.

The next hitter reaches on an infield single. Now there's two on and one out. The game is tied, and hot hitting Vladimir Guerrero is coming to the plate. This time Hillman comes out to talk to Meche, whose pitch count now is roughly 120. Hillman decides to stay with Meche.

Meche gets Guerrero on a fly out. There's two out now, and it's starting to look like the Royals may just get out of this jam. Meche needs one more.

Now remember all that defensive shuffling a minute ago? This is when the decision to leave Guillen in the game (or use him as a pinch hitter at all) will come back to haunt Hillman. The next hitter, former Mizzou star Ian Kinsler, hits a line-drive to right. The ball looks catchable. The ball is catchable. Guillen runs in toward it. It looks like he can get to it. He doesn't. The ball drops, and by the replay, it looks as if it almost hit Guillen on the top of his cleats.

Royals fans collectively groan. It's probably a safe assumption that DeJesus would have gotten to the ball, but you never know. Either way, the go-ahead and eventual game-winning run scores. Another winnable game ends in a losing effort.

. . .

This is the life of the manager of the Kansas City Royals. When at a disadvantage talent-wise, the game management is under an even bigger microscope. Questionable decisions will often backfire. Worst-case scenarios become reality. The losses begin to weigh on the city and the team. Most of all, though, the losses take their toll on the manager, and there's only the next decision, next game, or next season for a chance at redemption.

It's likely the opportunity for Hillman has come and gone, and I get the sense he's okay with that.

*Thanks to and Tony Gutierrez of for the images.


  1. I check my Royal feeds every hour, just waiting for the news. It would make my day. My season. My half decade. The weekend was a clinic in horrible managing, but the whole Hillman ride has been pretty damn unpleasant.

  2. I could not agree more. I am searching every news source looking for the one "Trey Hillmand Fired as Royals manager". I have yet to see anything but I am hopeful. Your decisions are horrible. Your team is fundamentally inept. Please get rid of the problem. He does not want to coach here and the players don't want to play for him.