No surprise that Royals pitching coach Bob McClure is facing a big void in his rotation with Zack Greinke gone. But McClure also feels a personal loss for the guy he helped guide to the 2009 Cy Young Award.
McClure worked with Greinke over a five-year period and every Spring Training there seemed to be some project that the two men worked on. The spring before the Cy Young, for example, refining a changeup was the focus and it made a huge difference in Greinke’s game in ’09.
“I’ll miss him,” McClure said. “When you’ve been around somebody as long as we’ve been around each other and gone through a lot of things – ups and downs, goods and bads – part of you is kind of missing.”
McClure wasn’t all that surprised by Greinke’s great Cy Young season. He had given then-manager Trey Hillman a head’s-up.
“The year before you could kind of see it coming. I remember telling Trey about halfway through the season before the Cy Young that he’s about ready to pop, it’s about ready to happen,” McClure said. “You could just kind of tell. I’ve played with guys and had the same thing happen – when you just walk out there and know you’re going to beat somebody. Then he took into the next season it kind of snowballed.”
There were a lot of things going on with Greinke as his success slipped last year. He was trying to cope with all the demands that his Cy Young fame engendered, he was adjusting to married life, he increasingly became annoyed by the Royals’ slow progress toward contention. And there was something else.
“When you’re that competitive and you have a year like he did, you end up trying to do more maybe,” McClure said.
That’s what happened with Bret Saberhagen after his Cy Young season in 1985. He went from 20-6 to 7-12 the next year and later realized that he was just pressing to be Mr. Perfect in ’86 instead of just relaxing, enjoying the game and letting things flow naturally.
Although there were rumbles that, at times last year, Greinke was perceived as not being as competitive or as focused as he was in ’09, McClure brushed that off.
“When I talked to him between the lines and talked to him between innings, it was a little different than when he would talk before or after a game,” McClure said. “I think there were times when it got away from him a little bit and he got a little predictable and then two runs in that inning turned into four.”
Now Greinke is with Milwaukee where, perhaps, he’ll be as fortunate as McClure was in his playing days. McClure had a fine year as a starter for the Brewers in 1982 and wound up pitching in the World Series that year.
Being at Fenway Park gave Royals manager Ned Yost a chance, when prompted by reporters, to re-live his crucial home run for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1982. It was a three-run, ninth-inning shot over the Green Monster that gave the Brew Crew a 6-3 win over the Red Sox in the waning days of their championship run.
“The funny thing about it, it was like a college atmosphere. The players met me halfway (to the plate) because they knew how big it was, too,” Yost recalled..
There was more to the story.
“I put on the shin guards and the pitcher came over and grabbed me by the shirt and yelled, ‘Hey! We’ve got three more outs to go. Now get your head in the game!’ I said, ‘All right, all right,’ ” Yost said, sitting on the same bench in the visitors’ dugout..
Yost paused for the kicker.
“The pitcher was Bob McClure.”
McClure, of course, is now Yost’s pitching coach with the Royals.
That Yost tale and others were included in a lengthy feature story posted on royals.com Tuesday.
Yost and the Brewers went on to win the division title that weekend at Baltimore and, of course, wound up in the 1982 World Series which they lost to the Cardinals. Yost, as the backup catcher, got just one at-bat in the Fall Classic.
“I walked,” Yost said. “I never walked and I got up against John Stuper and I said, ‘This is my one World Series appearance and I’m going deep.’ I was swinging out of my rear end, trying to hit a home run and the guy ended up walking me.”
One home run that entire year was all that Yost would get but it was a big one.
Now here’s some good news for Royals fans. Zack Greinke pitched a round of live batting practice on Wednesday at the Royals’ Spring Training workout and pitching coach Bob McClure was asked how he did.
“He did fine, same as I’ve seen in the past. No difference,” McClure said.
You could interpret that as saying that Greinke is in Cy Young Award form.
Manager Trey Hillman was impressed by what he saw from right-hander Aaron Crow, the Royals’ top draft choice last year.
“He looked good. I’d like to see a little better command but it’s really early. But he’s got great stuff,” Hillman said.
Asked if Crow might be trying too hard, Hillman responded: “Yeah, especially in his first Major League camp. He doesn’t want to pitch in the Minor Leagues, he wants to be in the big leagues.”
That said, Crow hasn’t pitched much in the last two years and the Royals are figuring on starting him in the Minors, possibly at Double-A Northwest Arkansas although that’s up in the air.
Hillman also saw fine work from starter Kyle Davies and a non-roster right-hander, Philip Humber. A right-hander, Humber has logged 18 Major League games with the Mets and Twins. He’s been a starter in the Minors and last year went 7-9 with Triple-A Rochester. . . . “The other thing I wasn’t really planning on being impressed with was some of the swings,” Hillman said. “We had some really good swings. It’s not what I was focusing on but it grabbed my attention.” . . . The Royals got through Wednesday’s second full-squad workout without any injuries. But the training staff will be on high alert on Thursday because, as Hillman puts it, the third day seems to take its toll on tight or aching muscles. . . . The Society for American Baseball Research has a deal for you. SABR is giving away the download of its Emerald Guide to Baseball 2010. It’s been developed using the old guides once published by The Sporting News, Spalding and Reach. It has all the Major and Minor League statistics for 2009 plus team histories, contact information, 2010 schedules, a year in review essay, post-season box scores, transactions and obituaries among other things. To download, go to http://sabr.org. If you’re looking for a bound version, that’ll cost you $24.95 at www.lulu.com.