PHOENIX -- The Dodgers have a new batting coach this year. As if that never happens.Turner Ward is the team's 12th batting coach since 2000, succeeding Mark McGwire, who succeeded Dave Hansen, who replaced Jeff Pentland and, well, you get the picture.• Spring Training:Tickets | Ballpark | 40-man roster |
PHOENIX -- The Dodgers have a new batting coach this year. As if that never happens.
Turner Ward is the team's 12th batting coach since 2000, succeeding Mark McGwire, who succeeded Dave Hansen, who replaced Jeff Pentland and, well, you get the picture.
• Spring Training:Tickets | Ballpark | 40-man roster | NRIs
Spinning through the revolving door were a Hall of Famer (Eddie Murray), a near Hall of Famer and batting champ (Don Mattingly), another batting champ (Bill Mueller) and a legendary villain (Jack Clark). None of them lasted longer than three seasons in the role.
The Dodgers now turn to the 50-year-old Ward, with Tim Hyers his assistant. They are tasked to work with the entire offense, but the presumptive first job is to rewind outfielder Joc Pederson to the first-half All-Star he was last year instead of the lost soul that he became in the second half. In their spare time, they can work on Yasiel Puig.
Ward, who played with Joc's father, Stu, in Toronto, doesn't accept the suggestion that Pederson is a wild-swinging, all-or-nothing slugger who can only homer, strike out or walk.
"This guy is a hitter," Ward said. "Sometimes I look at when young hitters go through that, it could be the best thing that could ever happen for their career. Any time you go through any kind of adversity, any kind of struggle, what you learn from it is so valuable. What I've heard him speaking is valuable. And he would never have gotten to that place without the struggle. Do we hate them going through those struggles? Oh man, I take it home with me at night when guys are struggling.
"But I also know they're learning something, because those pitchers out there on the mound are telling you the adjustments you need to make. They're telling you what your weaknesses are. It's that dog-eat-dog battle of the minds a lot of times. What he's gone through and watching him making the adjustments he's already making is valuable experience."
Ward played in the Major Leagues for nearly a decade, but his crowning achievement since his career ended has been his role in turning Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt into one of the most feared hitters in the game and a true tormenter of the Dodgers.
"He was unbelievable," Goldschmidt said of Ward. "He's really been a great mentor for me both on and off the field. As a manager in Double-A, he worked with a lot of us in here, and then he was with us for three years, so we've all worked very closely with him. And I don't know if there's a guy who cared more about his players and trying to get them better.
"He's a very unselfish hitting coach. He's very knowledgeable, but one of the hardest-working guys I've ever been around. He set a great example for how guys should play and held all of us to a high standard. He's everything you would want in a hitting coach, and I was fortunate to get to work with him."
Ward's only previous connection to the Dodgers came when reliever J.P. Howell scuffled with the D-backs' assistant hitting coach during the 2013 incident between the clubs, pinning Ward against the photo well railing after Ian Kennedy hit Zack Greinke with a pitch.
"He was an innocent bystander," Howell said. "Wrong place at the wrong time."
Ward and Howell finally formally met at the start of Spring Training, with punch lines replacing punches.
"I keep looking over my shoulder to see if he's coming," joked Ward. "Seriously, I look at what he did as more admirable than anything. You're protecting your teammate."
Ward spent the past eight seasons in the Arizona organization, including three years on the D-backs' Major League staff. While he was there, the organization produced two Silver Sluggers (Goldschmidt and center fielder A.J. Pollock). Last year Arizona led the National League in hits (1,494), while ranking among the Major League best in runs (720, 2nd), extra-base hits (491, 2nd), batting average (.264, 3rd), on-base percentage (.324, 3rd) and slugging percentage (.414, 2nd).
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com.