PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies still believe it can be hittin’ season in Philadelphia.
The team announced Tuesday that it dismissed hitting coach John Mallee and replaced him with Charlie Manuel, the winningest manager in franchise history and the man who led the Phillies to the 2008 World Series title, two National League pennants and five NL East titles from ‘07-11. The move is the Phillies’ attempt to spark a talented but underachieving offense and salvage a season that carried high expectations. The Phillies entered Tuesday in fourth place in the division, but only two games back of the second NL Wild Card spot.
“I know a lot of people are burying us and saying we have no chance and haven't played well, and part of that is correct,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. “We have not played well. We have not hit well, especially since the All-Star break. But we are not buried and we are not out. We are this close to achieving what we want to achieve this year: playing October baseball and winning in October. I know things are not perfect. Have we had injuries? Yes. Have we had players that have struggled? Yes. Has it been perfect? No. But we are still this close in the middle of August and a good hot streak will put us exactly where we want to be.
“That's the message. The message is that we are not going to sit on our hands and do nothing. We are going to continue to push and we are going to continue to try and if everybody does what they can do, this team can play October baseball."
Manuel, 75, will not join the team until Wednesday. He will be the Phillies’ hitting coach through the remainder of the season, but is unlikely to continue in that role or any other role in the dugout beyond that. Sources said Manuel does not have those expectations anyway. He is stepping out of his senior advisor role in the front office to help the organization in a time of need.
“I think it's great,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. “We always want more resources, and Charlie's a great resource. I look forward to having the opportunity to pick his brain.”
If Manuel had said no to the job, the Phillies still would have dismissed Mallee.
Klentak said no further coaching changes are under consideration, although there has been speculation that first-year pitching coach Chris Young’s job is in jeopardy. Klentak also said everybody from Phillies managing partner John Middleton to president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail to Kapler had been involved in the decision to hire Manuel.
MacPhail, Klentak and Kapler had repeatedly defended the coaching staff in recent weeks, but as the Phillies’ offensive struggles continued and the team continued to lose, they realized they needed to try something different.
“Our offense hasn't been good for some time now,” Klentak said.
The Phillies are ninth in the NL in scoring (4.72 runs per game); 10th in on-base percentage (.322) and wRC+ (91); 11th in home runs (149); and 12th in slugging percentage (.417) and weighted on-base average (.312). They rank in the bottom half of the league in every key offensive category, despite the offseason acquisitions of Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen (who suffered a season-ending left knee injury in June), and in-season acquisitions Jay Bruce, Corey Dickerson and Brad Miller.
Harper and Rhys Hoskins both said they liked Mallee as hitting coach. They both said he worked hard. Nobody disputes that.
But sometimes fresh messaging can help.
“I don't think anybody in baseball or this world loves hitting more than Charlie,” Harper said. “He’s a guy that always has fun and enjoys the game and wants you to work hard. Things are very simple with his message and what he wants us to do, so I'm looking forward to getting in there and talking to him.”
Hitting is Manuel’s passion. But one of his greatest strengths is his ability to connect with people. He builds confidence. He keeps them loose. Former players have said he helped get the best out of them.
Manuel might try to simplify the Phillies’ offensive approach, something Kapler acknowledged in June had become too complex.
“Philosophically, this may not be as big a shift as it seems,” Klentak said. “Charlie Manuel's been very instrumental in the development of our organizational hitting philosophy. Charlie, although he has a senior advisor title, has been very active in our Minor Leagues. He was very close with John Mallee. He knows our players very well. He watches the Phillies all the time, often from the box with me upstairs. And Charlie Manuel as a hitting coach in the 1990s was preaching a lot of the things that have now been labeled as exit velocity and launch angle and have some new titles. But that's the kind of stuff that Charlie was teaching back when he was helping Jim Thome become a Hall of Famer.
“I understand that there's kind of a simplistic viewpoint here that we are shifting from new school to old school, but it's really not that simple. I think the messenger is changing, but I think the message will be largely the same.”
But in the end, the players have to hit. Klentak knows this. Kapler knows this. Manuel knows this.
“Ultimately it falls on the shoulders of the players,” Hoskins said. “We can sit here and play the what-if game, but the front office has made a decision that they think will put us in a position to make a run here in the last  games and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”