Hitting coach Long eyes 'WS in near future'

Long introduced by Phillies on Wednesday after spending last 4 years with Nationals

October 13th, 2021

The Phillies introduced new hitting coach Kevin Long on Wednesday -- but many elements in Philadelphia will be anything but new for Long.

He worked with manager Joe Girardi with the Yankees from 2008-14, and with Bryce Harper on the Nationals in 2018. Long has also seen the Phillies' lineup up close plenty, having spent the last four seasons in the same role for the division rival Nationals.

"One of the most important things about being a hitting coach is, when a guy gets a little out of whack, how quickly you pick it up," Girardi said. "And he was fantastic at it. I knew it's the guy I always wanted, in a sense, if I ever got a chance to be back together with him, because I knew how good he was."

The reunion came together quickly over the last two weeks. The Phillies fired hitting coach Joe Dillon -- and infield coach Juan Castro -- on the final day of the regular season. Though Long's contract with the Nationals was up at the end of October, it was unclear at that time whether he would even be available this offseason.

After talks with the Nationals didn't progress as Long had hoped, he asked permission to talk to other teams -- and Girardi was one of his first calls.

"Joe and I have a longstanding relationship, along with [bench coach] Rob Thompson, who I've known a long time, as well," Long said. "I'm looking forward to reuniting with those guys, and not only that, but getting the Philadelphia Phillies to a World Series here in the near future."

Of course, Long also had a close relationship with Dillon, the man he's replacing. Dillon served as Long's assistant hitting coach with the Nats from 2018-19 before being hired by the Phillies -- a move that was praised at the time by Harper -- following the '19 season.

Though Dillon learned many of his tactics from Long, Girardi is confident that bringing in the original source will make a difference. After all, Girardi pointed out, legendary college football coach Nick Saban was 24-0 against his former assistants before finally dropping a head-to-head battle last weekend.

"I'm not so sure how much of a philosophy change there's going to be, but let me compare it this way, because everyone knows I'm a huge college football fan," Girardi said. "There are a lot of proteges of Nick Saban who have never beaten him. It just happened for the first time. So that's the way I would describe it -- there are a lot of proteges, but there's one Nick Saban. There's one Kevin Long."

That high praise certainly caught Long's attention.

"Wow," he said. "I just got goosebumps."

Harper had a similar reaction when Long called his former -- and now current -- player with the news.

"I just told him he was going to have a familiar hitting coach and he said, 'I just got goosebumps,'" Long said. "I said, 'Good, me too.' We're excited to be reunited. I think it's going to work out real well for all of us."

Though he comes with Harper's stamp of approval, Long wasn't brought in specifically to work with his former player. After all, Harper is arguably the top candidate for the NL MVP Award after slashing .309/.429/.615 with 35 homers and an MLB-best 1.044 OPS this season.

Yet even with Harper's remarkable production, the Phillies ranked seventh in the NL in runs per game (4.53) and on-base percentage (.318), eighth in slugging percentage (.408) and ninth in batting average (.240). Many in the lineup, particularly Didi Gregorius and Alec Bohm, took steps back offensively after impressive showings in 2020.

"I think it's my job to maximize their potential, to maximize our offense, as a whole," Long said. "And we're going to start attacking that immediately. I'm already digging into film and numbers. There's a lot of things to do in a short time."

That applies to the entire organization. The Phillies still need to name an assistant hitting coach and an infield coach. The latter should be announced "within the next couple days," per Girardi.

Philadelphia also needs to make sure everyone is on the same page with so many moving parts. Along with the changes on the coaching staff and any potential roster moves this offseason, the team made sweeping changes to its Minor League system in September, capped by hiring Preston Mattingly as its director of player development.

Long emphasized the importance of "continuity" between the club's approach in the Minors and at the big league level.

"Can individuals improve? Yes. Can the offense improve? Yes. Can the team, as a whole, improve? Yes," Long said. "That's what our job is. Our job is to put the best product we possibly can on the field, and we're going to do that."