Coles returns to Nats as hitting coach

October 18th, 2021

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals’ hitting-coach role did not stay vacant for long, as the team announced on Monday that it hired Darnell Coles to take the job.

The position opened up when the team parted ways with Kevin Long, who was hired as the Phillies' hitting coach on Wednesday.

“We are very excited to add Darnell Coles as our hitting coach,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said in a statement. “We align on hitting philosophy, process and focusing on the here and now. He’s not only an outstanding hitting coach, but a great baseball man. Darnell has a great rapport with both veterans and young players and brings a thorough understanding of the analytics that we would like to incorporate.”

Coles, 59, already is familiar with the Nationals. He's had various roles in their Minor League system, including hitting instructor (2006), Class A Short Season Vermont manager (‘07), Low-A Hagerstown skipper (‘08) and Triple-A Syracuse hitting coach (‘09). Coles went on to work for the Tigers and Brewers organizations, and he most recently was the hitting coach for the D-backs before he was dismissed by the team in June.

“I was born and raised in that organization, worked my way up from the bottom,” Coles said on a Zoom teleconference on Monday afternoon. “Obviously when you get an opportunity to come home, so to speak, it's always nice.”

Coles also played 14 seasons in the Majors from 1983-97, which included being teammates with Martinez on the ‘92 Reds. Off the field, they lived a quarter of a mile from each other for 15 years. During this time, their families spent time together, went on vacations and a friendship grew.

“Davey is an ultra positive person, like I am,” Coles said. “I think that he's going to allow me to put my stamp, so to speak, on the offense and make the adjustments that are necessary. But he also is going to be involved. He wants to be involved.”

To build relationships with the players, Coles plans to make introductory phone calls. He already knows veteran Ryan Zimmerman from his days in the Minors, and he is planning to encourage the 37-year-old to return for a 17th season. Coles also has thought about his approach to coaching slugging powerhouse Juan Soto, who led the Majors with a .465 on-base percentage this past season.

“Nobody -- under any circumstances -- is to mess with his swing,” Coles said. “He is the epitome of what a great Major League hitter is.”

When it comes to his coaching style, Coles emphasized the value of communication. His focus at the plate is dominating the strike zone through game planning, good decision-making and situational awareness.

And with boundless statistical categories to tell the story of the offense, Coles pays close attention to swing percentage and runners left on base. After the Nats overhauled their roster at the Trade Deadline, the team finished with a .263 batting average (first in the National League), a .350 OBP (first in NL), a .430 slugging percentage (seventh in NL) and a .780 OPS (first in NL) following the All-Star break. The team also ranked 29th in swing percentage (45.9%) in the second half.

“Each and every run we score -- preferably early -- allows our pitcher to relax and go out and pitch,” Coles said. “The consistency of our offense showing up every night is not going to be based on home runs. It's going to be based on us going out and battling every night, not giving pitches away, not giving at-bats away, trusting the next guy next to you so that if I don’t get the job done, he’ll get the job done.”

Washington is looking to bolster its offense to improve on its 65-97 record this season.