Henderson confident in approach with hitters
Phils' hitting coach looks forward to helping offense, working with Joyner
PHILADELPHIA -- A hitting coach is an often thankless job.
Hit, and everybody credits the hitters.
Lose, and everybody blames him.
Phillies hitting coach Steve Henderson understands this, but he remains enthusiastic about his profession and his chances to help a team that scored just 684 runs last season -- the organization's lowest total since 1997.
"I just believe in what I'm capable of doing, trying to get these guys to be in a better position to hit," Henderson said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. "And I want them to have some fun up there."
The Phillies have pointed to injuries for their lack of offense last season -- it's tough to score without Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in the lineup -- but this hasn't been a one-year problem. The offense also came up small in the 2010 and '11 postseasons.
Henderson and assistant hitting coach Wally Joyner have their work cut out for them.
But Henderson, 61, believes he can make a difference. He has instant credibility as a 12-year veteran in the big leagues. He also served as the Tampa Bay Rays hitting coach from 2006-09 before joining the Phillies as a Minor League hitting coordinator (2011-12) and outfield/baserunning coordinator (2010).
"If I can just get them to believe in themselves," he said. "Yes, it's going to be tough. I've been around veteran guys that don't want to make changes. But they've got to get my confidence and I have to get their confidence. So when I do make a suggestion to them, when I do talk to them, they're willing to try it. It's tough. It's hard. If you're set in your ways, it's hard to change somebody. But at the same time if I can get them to believe in what I'm thinking or what I'm talking about, we'll see what happens."
Henderson has a clear hitting philosophy: hit the fastball.
Henderson sees hitters letting quality fastballs go by only to find themselves behind in the count, flailing at an offspeed pitch outside the strike zone.
"I always believe in being aggressive at the plate, but at the same time being selective," he said. "You can't just go up there swinging at everything, but you have to attack the fastball. Everybody is throwing it. Sometimes we get caught up in on-base percentage, which is great. I understand it. But guys have a tendency of throwing a lot of fastballs, and we have a tendency of just letting them go by. That's why I say be aggressive, but selective at the plate. That's very important.
"If you watch these playoffs games, look at the Cardinals. They're really aggressive on the fastball. The other night I saw the same thing from San Francisco. Sometimes we have a tendency of getting away from our strength, and our strength is hitting the fastball."
Henderson will be working with Joyner, who the Phillies hired on Monday. It is a new twist for the Phillies and Henderson, who have never worked with assistant hitting coaches before. But teams like St. Louis have employed them with success.
"That was something that Tony La Russa had come to me with many years ago," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said last week. "And the reason for doing it is that, if you think about it, the pitching coach has help with the bullpen coach. And it just seemed like a natural progression to get some assistance with the hitters. It helps split up the duties, helps with our advance work as well. So we just saw a lot of different benefits."
In St. Louis, Mark McGwire is the hitting coach. John Mabry is his assistant.
"I think it's really beneficial," Mabry said. "You know, there's 13 guys that you've got to take care of during the regular season, and a lot more than that during Spring Training and September. One guy has a lot of work to do. So with two guys, it's a really good mix. You get to bounce ideas off each other and work together with guys, and kind of eliminate the work from one guy."
Henderson is on board with the idea.
"I think it's a great idea," he said. "We've got 25 guys hitting. People talk about the 12 or 13, but we have 25 counting the pitchers. Now, with two hitting coaches, we can bounce things off each other. The guy that we hired, Wally Joyner, is a great guy to bounce things off of. He understands how to hit. And I understand how to hit. And Charlie [Manuel]. It's going to be what Charlie wants, and we're going to apply everything and hopefully it'll be great."
Henderson said he has vision for how he and Joyner will work together with the hitters.
"We're going to work together as 'we,'" he said. "Work together. All of us are going to work together. He's got a lot of knowledge. He can help me out with the video. He can help everybody. But we're going to do this as a 'we.' It's not Steve Henderson. It's nothing like that. It's everybody. It's going to be a combined effort to win games."
In the end, winning is what matters most. Case in point: Tampa Bay did not renew Henderson's contract following the 2009 season, despite the fact the Rays set franchise records in runs, home runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and walks. But the Rays finished 19 games behind the Yankees in the American League East, so they bemoaned their struggles with situational hitting (they ranked seventh in the league, hitting .269 with runners in scoring position).
"That's just how the game is," Henderson said. "I understand the game. We did a lot of good things there. Hopefully we can do a lot of good things here.
"We just have to know the guys. I have to know each one of the guys. I've got to make sure whatever they want I have to be able to give it to them. Second of all, I've got to be there with them, whether they're going bad or whether they're going good. That's one of the biggest things, even when I played. When you're going bad it seems like you can't get a friend. I'm going to be there regardless. This isn't my first time doing this. Once I start with my hitters I will back my hitters. Like I said, this is we. When I say, we it's Charlie, Wally, [general manager] Ruben [Amaro Jr.] and myself. It's going to be a combination of we. And, hey, somebody's got to take the blame sooner or later. That's OK."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.