Royals trying to fight through losing streak
Struggling bullpen at the center of club's nine straight defeats
KANSAS CITY -- Joakim Soria, his right shoulder packed in his ice, sat in the Royals' quiet clubhouse after the latest of their nine straight losses. Not even the premier closer could escape the bad karma, victimized by a line drive that just got over the drawn-in shortstop. Another game slipped away.
"The point is we don't have any luck," Soria said. "None at all."
So the Royals went into Thursday's day off pondering a season gone wrong. An 18-11 encouraging getaway turned into a 19-46 discouraging follow-up. They were just a half-game removed from last place.
As if things weren't bad enough, right fielder Jose Guillen was placed on the disabled list on Thursday because of a Grade 2 tear to his lateral collateral ligament in his right knee.
That was just the latest blow to the team assembled by general manager Dayton Moore.
Moore has already lost shortstop Mike Aviles and center fielder Coco Crisp for the season and third baseman Alex Gordon missed half of it, all because of surgery.
Things haven't improved, and the latest on-field malady was the collapse of the bullpen. Moore, along with manager Trey Hillman and pitching coach Bob McClure, was looking for answers but had no immediate solutions.
"Bob and Trey and the staff are working to try to make adjustments, mix and match differently, and our scouts are constantly looking for opportunities with players that are available," Moore said. "Yeah, we're always looking, but I don't have any answers right now."
The July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline is just nine days away, so maybe some quick fixes could be made. For the long-term overall picture though, Moore is determined to stay the course with the organization he's built in his three-plus years at the helm.
"For the last 15 years, we haven't had a lot of success, and in that time, there have been several changes that have been made -- none of which has been the long-term answer," Moore said.
"We have a plan, we're sticking with the plan," he added. "Things don't change overnight. I know fans don't want to hear that. I'm frustrated, I'm living it every day, our staff is frustrated, our players are frustrated. We understand the frustration, but we can't change course and abandon the process just because everybody is frustrated. We've got to stay focused, look at the positive, stay enthusiastic about our day and continue to get better. It's just as simple as that."
Moore has made it clear that he intends to have Hillman back as manager in 2010 for a third year.
"Just look at my track record as being a director, and I don't make a lot of changes unless guys don't work, or they stopped caring or they're dysfunctional within the group, and we don't have any people like that," Moore said.
"And there's nobody that's smarter than anybody else," he added. "There are some guys out there like [Tony] La Russa and [Joe] Torre and Bobby Cox that have this presence, that have that aura about them. The rest of us just have to keep the continuity."
The bottoming-out of the bullpen -- 23 runs in 19 innings in the 0-6 homestand and four leads squandered in the eighth inning -- have led to second-guessing of Hillman over his use of Soria. Shouldn't the skipper bring his closer into the fray in those eighth-inning meltdowns?
Finally on Wednesday night, Hillman did, and even Soria got his fingers burned.
"Desperate times call for desperate measures, and obviously, we're in desperate times for what our bullpen's done," Hillman said.
Hillman said he'd continue to guard against exposing Soria to longer-than-usual outings due to his shoulder problems earlier this year. Another of his points: If you use up Soria in the eighth, who comes in behind him to close out a game?
Of course, there are other problems. The Royals were last in the American League in runs scored. And their 71 errors translated into a league high of 50 unearned runs.
"This isn't the team we broke camp with either," infielder/outfielder Mark Teahen said. "There have been a lot of changes, we've been hit with some injuries and stuff, but it's the big leagues -- nobody's going to feel sorry for you. We need to figure out a way to win games with the guys we have here."
So far there's no evidence of a going-through-the-motions syndrome.
"We've been playing hard, but it's especially hard when it comes at the end of the game when you have a lead," said pitcher Brian Bannister. "These guys are battling hard, nobody wants this to happen. We're going to get through this."
Hillman soldiers on.
"Go day-to-day," Hillman said. "Yeah, it's tough. It's no fun, no fun losing ballgames. I've never seen anything like this with the bullpen. I've been doing this for a few years, I've never seen anything like it. It's home runs, it's bases on balls, it's broken-bat hits, it's ineffectiveness."
That is a short-term crisis. Moore prefers to look at the long-term goal. He noted that the Minnesota Twins, under GM Terry Ryan, had several difficult seasons before finally emerging as champions and annual contenders earlier this decade.
"That's what we're going to try to do here, and if ownership stays patient with us, we'll all be rewarded," Moore said. "We'll be a consistent, winning organization if we're given enough time to do it."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.