Phillies hope two bat heads are better than one

Posted: February 27, 2013

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The sound of a wooden bat meeting a baseball is unmistakable. It's one of the sweetest sounds in sports.

And those who know enough about the art of hitting can decipher the sound of one swing from another, the good from the bad.

On Monday morning at Bright House Field, Ben Revere took pregame cuts in the batter's box with Phillies manager Charlie Manuel listening from behind the hitting screen.

Thhhwack! Revere, the Phillies fleet-footed centerfielder, drove a ball to center.

Thhhwack! He lined another to right.

"That's Paul Revere's kid," Manuel said.

Revere smiled, nodded and joked back at his manager. It was about 2 hours before first pitch of the exhibition game against Detroit, the sun was out, and everyone was in good spirits in Clearwater.

To the right of Manuel, a former hitting coach, was broadcaster Gary "Sarge" Matthews, another former hitting coach. As Juan Samuel threw batting practice, Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Ryne Sandberg watched from the opposite side of the cage from Manuel, and two others guys with a combined 28 years in the big leagues, Steve Henderson and Wally Joyner, were on the scene, too.

Bat meeting ball wasn't the only sound of the late-morning batting practice session. It was more of the background noise.

For the duration of the pregame hitting routine, no fewer than a half-dozen accomplished baseball men were carrying on about Manuel's favorite baseball subject: hitting.

"If we create a culture where everybody gets along and we absolutely love to hit," Manuel said, "and come to the ballpark everyday wanting to get the most out of our hitting, you never know what you're going to do . . . I think we're going to see quite a bit of improvement in our hitting."

Schmidt, the most accomplished hitter in franchise history, is around for a month, and Sandberg was promoted to the major league staff as a third-base coach in October. But perhaps the most important alteration the Phillies made to their coaching staff this offseason came with the addition of an assistant hitting coach.

The Phils joined a growing list of major league teams employing two hitting coaches. Henderson was hired to replace Greg Gross in October; later in the winter, the Phils added Joyner to the staff as his assistant.

"One, because of the work, and two because it's an intense job," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said of why the team decided to go with two hitting coaches for 2013. "To me, it's about being able to communicate and spend the time that's necessary to try to continue to improve and work on things. In a lot of ways, it's gotten to the point where there's too many players and too much information that I think having two guys can really, really help you."

In 2012, only five major league teams employed a second hitting coach. Two of those teams (the Giants and Tigers) played in the World Series, and two others (the Cardinals and Braves) were in the playoffs.

"It's a lot of work, a lot of on-field work, a lot of video work, and most of them are in the National League because pitchers hit, too," said Henderson, a former hitting coach with the Tampa Bay Rays who has spent the last three seasons as a minor league hitting coordinator with the Phillies. "I think it's a great idea and, as a matter of fact, I think it's way overdue . . . I'm kind of excited about it."

Henderson was among the people who sat in on Joyner's interview. Everyone in the room knew Joyner's resumé: he was a former All-Star, a .289 hitter in 16 big-league seasons, and had worked as a hitting coach with San Diego in 2007 and 2008 before spending the last 5 years as a hitting instructor for MLB International's elite-level development programs.

But perhaps more important than his resumé was seeing how well the two would mesh.

"We picked him right away," Henderson said with a laugh.

The importance of having both coaches working in unison can't be understated. Kevin Frandsen broke into the big leagues with the San Francisco Giants when the two-hitting coach approach was in its infancy.

"It was tough," the infielder said. "In the minor leagues, you have a guy you trust and you're in tune with, and then you get to the big leagues and they have two, and it didn't seem like they were always on the same page, and they'd double-team you with things."

Because of the sheer manpower of the job - trying to help a clubhouse full of 13 big-league hitters and starting pitchers, too - two hitting coaches must be better than one. It's no different from having one teacher in a classroom full of 40 students as opposed to two rooms with two teachers and 20 students in each.

As long as the message remains the same, with Henderson and Joyner working together and the hitters working with both of them, it would appear to be a recipe for hitting success.

"There are no lapses with what we're trying to do as a team and what we're working on and how to execute it," shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "Everyone is going about it the same way. What works for me goes from the cage to the dugout to the field. What works for Ryan [Howard] goes from the cage to the dugout to the field.

"The closest we had to that is when we had [former batting practice pitcher Ali] Modami, he'd feed balls to us and never leave the cage. But he wasn't a guy who played major league baseball. We could bounce things off of him, but it wasn't the consistency from the cage to the field, because he wasn't a coach, so there was a disconnect."

In 2013, Joyner is here to bridge that gap.

"I just think it's going to be a lot of fun to keep these guys sharp and ready," Joyner said. "In the past, with one hitting coach, it might not have been that way every day. You only have so much time. Now, hopefully we can keep every guy that's a hitter ready to play every day for Charlie."

Like the sound of ball meeting bat, that, too, is music to Manuel's ears.

"I like the work that we're doing . . . the communication," Manuel said. "Our coaches are talking to the players and the players are definitely corresponding with them. And they're listening to the players, too. That's what we want."

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21


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