One of Ned Yost’s greatest strengths as a manager is his loyalty to his players.
That's one reason you never hear of any tumult in the Royals' clubhouse and that they may be the most close-knit team in baseball as there's almost a college-like atmosphere that surrounds them.
You never hear Yost criticize a player. If a pitcher has a bad outing or a hitter is in an extended slump, he always puts a positive spin on the situation. As in the 2-1 loss to Baltimore on Monday, Yost tipped his cap to Baltimore pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez and didn't denigrate his hitters.
Yost has stuck with Alex Gordon, even though the former All-Star outfielder has been in what is now a two-year slump. He’s also stayed with Brandon Moss as the DH, even though his batting average has hovered around .200 all year and he’s piled up a mountain of strikeouts. And when Alcides Escobar was hitting in the .180s in early June, Yost said Escobar would play every day because he knew he would eventually come out of his tailspin (which he has).
But Yost may soon have a difficult decision to make and his loyalty to a player will be tested.
Joakim Soria has been the Royals' eighth-inning pitcher all season and last night worked the ninth because of a tie game. While the Royals announcers have been effusive in their praise (they take their cue from Yost), the fact of the matter is that Soria has blown seven saves and been tagged with three losses.
The Royals now have plenty of arms in their bullpen, thanks to their trade with San Diego that brought Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter. Maurer, in fact, had 20 saves for the woebegone Padres and knows how to close.
Royals fans have become increasingly frustrated with Soria and you have to wonder privately if the players are thinking the same thing. When fans see him come into games lately, it's like "how long is it going to take for him to fail?" He is 1 of 8 in save opportunities. Opposing hitters are batting .271 against him. His ERA is 3.35, which is better than the 4.05 of last year. That's a far cry, though, from his glory years of 2007 to 2010 when his ERA was almost always under 2.00.
Soria doesn't have the power arm anymore to blow it by hitters. He might get up to 92 mph on occasion. He tries to get by on cunning and guile, but he's been around long enough that opponents know if they wait on his balloon curveball, they can rake.
With all the options Yost now has at his disposal, you have to wonder how much longer he can afford to stay with Soria in the eighth inning. For once, Yost may have to put his loyalty to his player aside and do what's best for the team.