Greg Gross is just two weeks into his tenure as the Phillies hitting coach.
Perhaps ironically, perhaps not, the Phillies offense has come alive in his
short tenure with the big league club, bumping their team average from .251
under Milt Thompson to a .316 mark with Gross over the past two weeks.
Meanwhile, at Gross’ old stomping grounds at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, the
Lehigh Valley IronPigs are much the same offensive club without Gross. The club
that struggled to hit through much of the season and had a .250 average under
Gross, is hitting .251 under the Phillies routine of rotating hitting coaches.
When the Phillies fired Thompson, the reasoning was that they just wanted a
"different voice" to get through to the club’s hitters. The reasoning
actually made a lot of sense, since players – especially high priced players –
tend to start tuning out coaches who don’t have a compelling way to get player’s
attention. It happens all the time with managers and pitching and hitting
coaches are no different.
Gross hasn’t introduced much new to the Phillies; there was no need to do
that. The Phillies have quality hitters who know what they’re doing at the plate
and Thompson wasn’t really at fault for the demise of the Phillies offense.
Instead, the hitters were just going through the motions and the firing of
Thompson simply got their attention.
Meanwhile, back at Lehigh Valley, having various hitting coaches coming and
going isn’t the best possible situation, but it’s likely to be workable. The
first of the guest hitting coaches to come to the IronPigs was Steve Henderson.
While Henderson was there, super-prospect Domonic Brown was with Lehigh Valley
and there were immediate questions being asked about how helping a young hitter
could be done effectively with a bunch of different voices telling him how to
approach International League hitters and hone his skills. One serious concern
was that having different coaches working with players could result in those
hitters getting different input into their approach at the plate. "That’s
not going to be an issue," stressed Henderson. "We’ll all communicate
and let each other know what we’re doing and what’s going on with the club. I
certainly won’t try to change a hitter’s approach or reinvent things here."
Brown was recently reunited with Gross when he was moved up to the Phillies,
but the concern now at Lehigh Valley is Matt Rizzotti, who has suddenly put
himself squarely in the middle of the prospect radar in the Phillies
organization. Rizzotti has gone from starting the season as a middle-range
prospect at High-A Clearwater to a quality prospect playing at Triple-A Lehigh
Valley. So, is he concerned about not having one hitting coach to rely on?
"No, not really. Especially at this point of the season, I think most
hitters are pretty much locked in on their approach," said Rizzotti.
"I know what I need to do to be successful, but I’m sure if somebody sees
something, they’ll let me know and we’ll work on it, but I’m not concerned about
The bottom line is that over the long-term, a hitting coach, just like a
pitching coach or manager, can make a difference in a ballclub. Short-term
though, it’s unlikely that the Phillies offensive explosion has all that much to
do with Greg Gross, who really doesn’t have a magic wand, but our investigative
report has, in fact, turned up the secret to turning around an offense. While
Gross was at Lehigh Valley, there was always a bag full of bats laying just
outside the IronPigs clubhouse and an Indian dream-catcher was always hanging
above them. That dream-catcher went missing a couple of weeks ago.