A.J. Hinch’s new coaching staff in Detroit includes a pitching coach hired down the road from the University of Michigan, a hitting coach with 22 years of pro coaching experience, a former Major League manager coaching at third base, a former World Series rival and Tigers managerial candidate as bench coach, and two holdovers from Ron Gardenhire’s old coaching staff. They all have one thing in common for Hinch.
“From the beginning of this, I was looking for impact,” Hinch said during a Thursday video conference with reporters. “The No. 1 criteria for me in all these positions has been impact. I just want guys that can impact players, open-mindedness, an incredible work ethic, a connection with players. And we really hit the mark on every hire.”
The Tigers still have one more hire to go. Hinch said they’re “closing in” on finding an assistant hitting coach to work with hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh, though they haven’t made an offer to any candidate yet.
While the Tigers paired up a first-time pitching coach with an experienced assistant with the hires of Chris Fetter and Juan Nieves last week, Detroit went with experience on the hitting side with Coolbaugh. He was the Orioles’ hitting coach from 2015-18, and most recently served as White Sox assistant hitting coach this past season. In between, he worked for the Dodgers as their hitting coach at Triple-A Oklahoma City. Hinch said he didn’t know Coolbaugh personally aside from as opponents on the field, but was impressed by the resume.
“Every team he has been around has hit,” Hinch said. “Now, a lot of that’s the players combined with the coaches and the opportunity where you’re at. Cooley has a calm demeanor. He’s a guy who’s evolved, someone who’s been in the game for a really long time and has coached in different eras, so to speak. …
“To me, it’s great that he’s touched so many players in so many different organizations. He’s kind of taken the wealth of knowledge as he’s come along the way, and yet he hasn’t changed his core principles. He’s an approach-oriented hitting coach. He’s got a calm demeanor. There’s a cage presence with him where he’s in the trenches with these guys. He’s gotten players from point A through the alphabet and to the finished product. And as I talked to him, we were aligned with what he sees as a total offense. It’s not just swing mechanics.”
By contrast, Hinch said, he had a long relationship with George Lombard, beyond their roles in opposite dugouts during the 2017 World Series -- Hinch as the Astros' manager, Lombard as the Dodgers' first-base coach.
“George and I have known each other for a really long time,” Hinch said, “mutual respect and admiration for each other’s work. I knew he had interviewed for this job in the manager’s seat [last month], and I thought we had an opportunity for him to come over and continue to impact players. We didn’t spend a whole lot of time looking in the past at any of the competition that we had in the World Series. But our connection, our common vision, our attention to detail, our views on the game are so aligned, it was impossible not to approach him about this opportunity to sit right next to me as a bench coach.”
Lombard will work with the Tigers' outfielders, Hinch said. Defensive alignments for the outfield, however, will be the responsibility of Chip Hale, who will be Detroit’s third-base coach after three seasons on Dave Martinez’s staff in Washington. The former D-backs manager was part of Hinch’s first coaching staff in Arizona in 2009.
“We got to work together there and we’ve maintained a good relationship throughout the years, even though we broke up after that and he went on to do other things,” Hinch said. “That type of experience is very important to me, especially in the third-base box. The only other guy on the field that makes a decision other than the manager is the third-base coach. He makes big decisions on sending runners obviously. He’s an extension of me when we’re talking about putting on signs and in the offensive approach that we’re taking at the plate.
“I just see him being part defensive coordinator on the infield-outfield positioning, part extension of the manager in the third-base box, and certainly a loyal guy that brings a lot of energy to a team. He’s won before in multiple places. That, to me, was very easy once the puzzle got put together.”