Can hitters truly change?
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel talked a lot last winter about how he would use the expertise of Mike Schmidt, Ryne Sandberg and Jim Thome in Spring Training in Clearwater, Fla., along with former hitting coach Greg Gross and himself to help the Phillies offense get back on track. But the Phillies scored their fewest runs in a season since 1997.
The Phillies will try again next spring. They hired two hitting coaches this month: head hitting coach Steve Henderson and assistant hitting coach Wally Joyner.
They think they can help.
"A hitting coach's job is to offer options," Joyner said in a telephone interview this week. "They need to look at hitters, see what they're doing right and what they're doing wrong. As a player, it was dangerous and probably not very successful to go up to a Major League Baseball player and say, 'OK, you're here, you've made it, but we're going to change everything.' That's not what a hitting coach is supposed to do. A hitting coach offers suggestions. A hitting coach hopefully sees some small flaws that with an adjustment and repetition, the player can be more consistent.
"That's what we're looking for across the board. We want consistency. We want a player to go up to the plate and perform. We want to work on the strike zone and pitch recognition. We want to work on understanding that it's not an emergency up at the plate. It's understanding the mental side and what a successful at-bat is. It's not always getting a base hit. That is successful, but there are going to be other successes that come: making good outs and bad outs. There's situational hitting. I think more than anything, it's getting these guys to understand that we're here for them to make them more consistent."
Joyner, 50, played 16 seasons in the big leagues with the Angels (1986-91, 2001), Royals (1992-95), Padres (1996-99) and Braves (2000). He hit .289 with 409 doubles, 204 home runs and 1,106 RBIs in 2,033 games.
He has instant credibility as a former All-Star and long-time big leaguer. He also has a coaching resume. He served as the Padres' hitting coach from 2007-08 after working in the organization as a Minor League roving hitting instructor. Since then, he has worked as the lead hitting instructor for MLB International's Elite-level development programs in Italy and Brazil. He spent the past year as MLB's European Hitting Camp in the Netherlands.
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. contacted Joyner earlier this month about the job. They know each other from their playing days with the Angels. But Joyner also met former Phillies general manager Pat Gillick while he was working with hitters overseas.
Those connections might have helped him land the job with the Phillies, where he is teaming up with Henderson.
Their partnership is a new one for the Phillies and a relatively new one in baseball. The Phillies join the Cardinals (Mark McGwire and John Mabry), Giants (Hensley Meulens and Joe Lefebvre), Tigers (Lloyd McClendon and Toby Harrah), Braves (Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher), Padres (Phil Plantier and Alonzo Powell) and Royals (Jack Maloof and Andrew David) as teams with two hitting coaches.
"It's a trend that's going to continue to grow," Joyner said.
The reason is simple.
"Hitting is probably the hardest thing to do in baseball," Joyner said. "There are so many players that need to stay sharp, and there's only one coach vs. 13 hitters and sometimes more than that, if there are guys rehabbing from injuries and staying with the team. There's a need for the hitting coach to be in the dugout. There's also a need for the hitting coach to be in the cages. He can only be in one place at one time."
Now the Phillies can have hitting coaches in two places at once, giving more attention to more hitters.
Currently, there is a rule that restricts the number of coaches allowed in the dugout during the game, but that rule could change.
"It's not a big deal, because I'll be in the cage most of the time during the game," Joyner said. "It would be nice to have the opportunity to be out there and help out the players as they're playing the game, but the reality is that my work is going to be done before the game on the field, early hitting, batting practice and things like that."
And there is plenty of work to do.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.