Girardi, Phillies get right down to business

New skipper dives into filling hitting, pitching coach vacancies

October 28th, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies answered the first of many looming offseason questions last week when they hired Joe Girardi to fill their managerial vacancy.

Now, the club will turn its sights toward finding new hitting and pitching coaches -- a process that is already underway. The team has interviewed "a couple pitching coaches," though neither Girardi nor general manager Matt Klentak has divulged any names. Still, Girardi expects to round out his coaching staff sooner rather than later.

"I think Matt would have had them done last week if he could have," Girardi said. "As soon as possible, because there are good names out there, and you don't want them to come off the board."

Girardi's introductory press conference at Citizens Bank Park on Monday started approximately one hour after the Yankees announced that pitching coach Larry Rothschild will not return to New York next season. Rothschild served as the pitching coach on Girardi's staff for the skipper's final seven seasons in the Bronx from 2011-17. That came after Rothschild, whose coaching career began in 1986 as the Reds' bullpen coach, also managed the Rays from 1998-2001 and spent nine years as the Cubs' pitching coach from 2002-10.

"I think we were together either seven or eight years, and I thought he did a great job," Girardi said. "I thought he did a great job there. The game has evolved a lot, and Larry continued to evolve with how the game has evolved. Obviously, Matt and I have a couple positions that we need to fill, and we're going to talk about every name that is out there, and get who we think the best person is for Philadelphia."

Might that be the 65-year-old Rothschild?

"You start thinking about pitching coaches and hitting coaches -- those are really two important positions," Girardi said. "They handle as many players as anyone, when you start talking about a coach. The pitching coach is going to work with 12 [players] initially, and then it's going to become -- hopefully not 25-30, but that's the way the game has went. Obviously, I have close ties to Larry, but we'll discuss everything."

Dave Eiland, who was relieved of his duties as the Mets' pitching coach in June, held that same position with the Yankees for Girardi's first three years in New York. As for Girardi's previous ties to hitting coaches, Kevin Long -- currently in his second year as the Nationals' hitting coach -- manned that role in Girardi's first seven seasons with the Yankees. Jeff Pentland held the position in 2015, while Alan Cockrell took over from '16-17. It's unclear whether any of those previous assistants are being considered for a reunion with Girardi in Philadelphia.

Once the Phillies answer those key coaching questions, the focus will shift entirely to the 2020 roster. After adding Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura last offseason, will the Phillies again spend big this offseason? Is superstar marquee free agent Gerrit Cole in play? What about fellow starters Hyun-Jin Ryu, Madison Bumgarner or potentially Stephen Strasburg (if he opts out)? Philadelphia's rotation finished 11th in the National League with a 4.64 ERA in '19.

"We've got a pretty good nucleus. We need pitching. Everybody knows it," said Larry Bowa, former manager and current senior advisor to the general manager. "I'm not saying something that's a hidden agenda here -- we need pitching. If we get pitching, we can compete. And I don't just mean compete, I mean compete with the big boys."

Girardi has a similar take, though he acknowledged it's hard to fully evaluate the bullpen given the well-documented rash of injuries to Philadelphia relievers this season. That was something Girardi noticed while broadcasting Phillies' games during his time as an MLB Network analyst.

"Every time I did a Phillies game -- I did one in May, June and August -- there was a whole different cast of characters," Girardi said. "It's really hard to survive when your bullpen doesn't stay healthy. Obviously, addressing that is really important. There are starters here that I believe have a lot of ability, and it's our job to get the most out of them."

Klentak also believed that was the case last offseason, when the Phillies ultimately decided to focus their efforts in free agency and the trade market elsewhere, believing they already had a top-10 rotation. That never came to fruition, with every starter outside of Aaron Nola dealing with season-long inconsistencies, something Girardi and the club's new pitching coach will need to address.

Whether that rotation has any newcomers remains to be seen, but Girardi is confident the Phillies are on the verge of returning to the postseason for the first time since 2011 regardless of how the rest of the offseason shakes out.

"It would have been interesting to see where they ended up [this season] if they could have kept that bullpen healthy -- even remotely healthy," Girardi said. "It was hard to evaluate this team, because they never were whole. Maybe Day One, but that evaporated pretty quickly."