The Brett Impact: As decision nears, Royals hoping Brett stays
Royals aren't scoring more runs under Brett, but some signs are pointing up -- and they're winning
By JEFFREY FLANAGANFS Kansas City
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The self-imposed 30-day time limit on George Brett's interim position as hitting coach is coming up this weekend.
As of now, Brett will say only that he plans to discuss the matter soon with general manager Dayton Moore. But otherwise he is offering precious few hints as to which way he is leaning.
"It's a lot of fun when you're winning," he says, smiling. "I don't know yet."
Royals players seem to be in a consensus that Brett likely will stick around at least until the All-Star break.
And, of course, they are hoping he will stick around much longer after that.
"Selfishly, obviously, we want him to stay," outfielder
Jeff Francoeur says. "But it comes down to whether he's having fun or not. He's traveled a lot in his life, and who knows if he wants to keep doing that? I know he takes a lot of cool vacations in the summer, and this is taking up a lot of his time.
"We're hoping he stays, but I don't know what he thinks. He seems to like it so far. But I don't know how he really feels."
Second baseman Elliot Johnson agrees.
"It looks like he's enjoying working with us," Johnson says. "He's done some great things with me so, yeah, I want him here. But it's not up to me."
Whatever effect Brett has had on the Royals' offense has been marginal, at least statistically.
The Royals were averaging 4.0 runs per game before Brett, and actually are down to 3.7 since he took over. But several players have shown flashes of coming out of their funks.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas was hitting .187 pre-Brett. He's hitting .237 since Brett took over.
First baseman Eric Hosmer was hitting .262 with one homer and 13 RBI in 48 games before Brett and is hitting .318 with two homers and 14 RBI in 22 games since Brett arrived.
"I know things aren't going to happen the next day," Hosmer says. "But the things he's helping with, I'm starting to see results. I've moved my hands a little, and I'm opening up sooner. I'm starting to pull the ball better to right field. It's still a work in progress, but I feel real comfortable right now."
Brett made a small tweak in Johnson's swing just before the Tampa series, and Johnson responded by going 7 for 16 with a homer in those four games.
"He fixed some things that were really small with me," Johnson says. "I was raising up in my stance a little bit, and I could no longer see the ball eye level. You're not going to pick up a ball at 95 mph if you're not close to eye level.
"So he's got me staying down longer. I'm seeing it better."
Brett has worked with Francoeur perhaps as much as anyone, hoping to get Francoeur to adopt more of the late hitting coach Charley Lau's philosophy of releasing the top hand off the bat during the swing to promote bat speed.
Early on in the process, Francoeur even released both hands off the bat during a game, and the bat went flying near the opposing dugout.
That scene brought a chuckle from Francoeur, but it also brought strong encouragement from Brett.
"George was jacked," Francoeur says. "I was a bit startled, but that's kind of the first step to doing top-hand release is to fire that bat through the zone quicker. I just went a little overboard there.
"He is a big proponent of that Charley Lau top-hand release. I remember early on, I was just holding on tightly to that bat and he was so pissed. Then I started to ease up and I hit that homer in Tampa and he was so happy. And he said, 'See?' And yeah, I could feel the difference. It was so smooth and the ball just kind of jumped out of there."
Results have been modest for Francoeur, but he does have three hits in his past four games, and he has hit several other line-drive outs. He also has hit two homers since Brett arrived.
And — are you sitting down? — Francoeur has walked three times in the past six games. He had walked only five times in his first 50 games.
"How 'bout that?" Francoeur says, smiling.
Johnson says it's important not to expect instant results under Brett's tutorship.
"Making big changes are really hard right in the middle of the season," Johnson says. "It's like someone who has spent their whole life brushing their teeth with their left hand. Then someone says you have to do it with your right hand from now on. You can do it, but it feels weird. And it's going to take time to get used to it for some guys.
"It's not going to happen overnight. Guys have swung the same way thousands and thousands of times in their lives. You can't change it overnight. But let's see how it works as time goes on this season."
And that's what Royals players are hoping — that Brett will be around to see the results as the season wears on.
For many of the players, just having Brett's enthusiasm around is paying dividends. Whether there is a connection or not, the Royals are 14-9 since Brett took over as hitting coach.
"It's a joy to be around him," Francoeur says. "It's a joy to be around him during spring training, but now it's even better because we can truly work with him, too."
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.