Players share blame for struggles
Braun among those who express surprise at timing of move
MILWAUKEE -- Ned Yost took the fall for the Brewers' brutal start to September, but a couple of his former players insisted that he doesn't deserve all of the blame."In Ned's defense, it's not his fault that we didn't hit and we didn't pitch the last two weeks," shortstop J.J. Hardy said on an off-day interrupted by news that Yost had been dismissed from his role as Brewers manager. "We're going through a hard time at the worst possible time to do that," Hardy said. "Something has to change, and it has to change quick. [Yost] happened to be the guy that they made the decision to change." The Brewers lost 11 of their first 14 games in September while squandering a 5 1/2-game lead in the National League Wild Card standings. They are tied with the Phillies in that department at 83-67 with 12 games to play and could see competition from the 83-65 Mets if the Phillies can surge to the top of the NL East or from 80-69 Houston if the Astros can rebound from a pair of tough losses to the Cubs. If the Brewers hang on for their first postseason berth since 1982, it will be with Dale Sveum as the interim manager. "I'm surprised," veteran infielder Craig Counsell said. "We're really close to the end and it's a pretty big shakeup. They felt it was necessary, obviously." The Brewers are hitting .207 in September, including .164 (18-for-119) with runners in scoring position. Phillies right-hander Brett Myers pitched a two-hit shutout on short rest against the Brewers in Game 2 of Sunday's doubleheader without allowing a runner into scoring position. Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio said Sveum is mulling some strategy changes but planned to meet with his coaches and select players before putting any of them into effect. Add Sveum to the list of those searching for answers. "I am mystified, too," general manager Doug Melvin said. "The players might know the answer [for their poor play]. That's probably a better question for the players, why they are not performing now. They are the ones that control it." But another late-season swoon has prompted some to question whether "Nervous Ned" is playing a role in his team playing tight. Hardy insisted he had never heard a player refer to Yost as "Nervous Ned," a moniker that nonetheless has appeared from unquoted sources in several published reports.
Counsell declined the notion that Yost's dugout demeanor had anything with the team's poor play."I would disagree with that," Counsell said. "Look, you're not going to lay this all on Ned, that's for sure. We need to play better. We need to start hitting. We need to start pitching. They have chosen to make a change to try to stir something up and I don't think Dale is going to be the savior if we don't start hitting and pitching. As players, we need to quit making excuses." Hardy admitted that it took him a while to warm to Yost -- "a couple of years" -- but at the same time, Yost was accused by some outside observers of being too loyal to his players during slumps. "I liked Ned," Hardy said. "I think there were guys that didn't and some guys that did, and I think that's the way it is with every manager on every team. I think there are a ton of players around the big leagues that are playing for managers they don't like." Through a club spokesperson, Yost declined to comment but he is expected to answer some questions on Tuesday. Yost was in a no-win situation with some of his players, according to Hardy. "Whatever he did, some of the players were looking at him too much," Hardy said. "If he was quiet and in the corner, they thought, 'Maybe he's nervous and he doesn't want to say anything.' If he was snapping his fingers and talking, it was like, 'He's nervous because he's snapping his fingers.' "Whatever he did, I feel like a lot of players were thinking that way, that it was a nervous reaction. I honestly think he did a lot better this year than last year, but it got to the point with some players that they weren't even looking for the good." In 2007, the Brewers built a lead in the NL Central as wide as 8 1/2 games, the best cushion in franchise history. They lost that lead by the end of August and ended up finishing two games behind the division champion Cubs. "It's not his fault, man. It's not his fault," outfielder Ryan Braun told reporters in the lobby of the team hotel in Chicago. "It's unfortunate somebody has to take the blame, but ultimately it's not his fault by any means. I've always said I think the players are the ones who are at fault. Whether we're winning or losing, it comes down to the way we play for him. There's nothing on the field he can do to make us play better. "I was really surprised at the timing of it. I at least thought they'd let the season play out and see what happened, but they felt like they needed to make a decision. Obviously, I have a lot of belief in upper management and ownership, the direction they see us going." Hardy believed he saw improvements in Yost. "This year, I thought he was doing a lot better job of being relaxed," Hardy said. "I saw it. I don't know if everybody else saw it, but this is one of the first years I started to understand him. "He wanted the best for us. He had good intentions and he wanted us to do the best we possibly could. At times, he wanted us to be as good as we possibly could all of the time. I think he was starting to understand, and now we have to understand that something had to happen. Now we need to play the best 12 games of our careers."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.