A benefit of joining the staff of a manager he knows well, personally, new Washington Nationals’ hitting coach Darnell Coles said in his introductory press conference, is the confidence that Davey Martinez will allow him to, “put my stamp, so to speak, on the offense, and make the adjustments that are necessary.”
While the Nats’ skipper allows for a certain amount of autonomy, Coles said, he knows that Martinez will also be hands on with the hitters.
“[He] is going to be involved,” Coles added. “He wants to be involved, we’ll sit down a lot, talk hitting, what he sees as a different set of eyes, and all that, but at the end of the day, he’s allowing me to go out and do my job so that these guys know that any and everything that these players are going to want and need will be taken care of and I mean taken care of pronto.”
Coles comes on as the hitting coach after Kevin Long, who served in that role for the first four years of Martinez’s tenure on the bench in D.C., left to do the same job with the Philadelphia Phillies this winter.
What does an offense with Coles’ stamp on it look like?
“It’s, ‘Let’s dominate the strike zone,’” Coles explained. “And how do we do that? That’s we’re controlling the strike zone so that we make good decisions, that’s game-planning, understanding what the pitcher is trying to do so that now you can make adjustments in-game or pre-game, however we do it.”
Coles, 59, is a veteran of 14 seasons as a player in the major leagues, and he’s worked as an assistant hitting coach in Detroit and hitting coach in Milwaukee and Arizona in addition to the various jobs he’s held in the minors.
He started as a coach when he was hired to work in the Nationals’ system in 2006, serving as, “a hitting instructor (2006), manager of short-season Single-A Vermont (2007) and Single-A Hagerstown (2008), and hitting coach at Triple-A Syracuse (2009),” as the Nationals noted in their press release on his hiring earlier this month.
His first task as the Nationals’ hitting coach, he told reporters, was to reach out and make contact with his new team, to let them know what he wanted to see from them and learn what they saw themselves in 2021.
“Here shortly I’m going to get everyone’s phone number and I’m going to call and introduce myself to them,” Coles said.
“Let them know, again, that we — meaning me, assistant hitting coach, run production coordinator or whoever the analytical guy is that’s with us, so that they know that we’re on the same page, that we’re going to do everything we can to make sure they get everything they need leading up to Spring Training, looking over all the numbers, and kind of see where their strengths are, where their weaknesses are, and how and what their path to improvement is.”
It’s important he reiterated, to not only let them know what he and the other coaches saw from each individual hitter, but also to get their thoughts on how things went for them at the plate in ‘21.
“I want to get a feel for how they felt the season went, positive or negatively, some it may be, ‘I didn’t get enough at bats.’ Some of it may be, ‘I got pitched in hard and I couldn’t lay off. They sped me up,’ whatever those breakdown issues are, I just want to make sure that they know leading up to Spring Training we’re going to do our homework. When we get into Spring Training, understanding exactly — I’m probably going to do a little less talking, because I want to see, I want to pay attention too, I want to make sure that you gain people’s trust before you make suggestions as to how things may or may not be changed, but lastly, I just want to make sure that they’re confident and comfortable that once we get into the season that we’ve done everything possible to prepare them for a championship season because I think this roster is loaded from top to bottom.”
Though there will be some different players in the mix in 2022, with a lot of changes in D.C., the Nationals, as a team, led all National League clubs in 2021 with a .258 batting average on the year, they had the lowest total strikeouts (1,303) and K% (21.3%), and they had the second-lowest swinging strike percentage (10.3%).
Coles said he was excited about the core of the roster he’ll be working with in ‘22.
“We have veterans like Juan Soto and Josh Bell, we’ve also got the younger core — you know, trying to get a chance to sit down with the young guys, [Keibert] Ruiz, [Victor] Robles, [Yadiel] Hernández, you know, guys who have potential to be great hitters but for some reason they’re hot and cold. Like their peaks are good, but then their valleys obviously aren’t so good, so it’s trying to get them more on a level playing field, trust in their ability to do certain things, and again, if that’s someone that swings too much, try to rein that in and kind of get to the point where you’re getting better pitches to hit. If that’s you’re swinging at too many breaking balls, you’re not reacting to breaking balls, then we have ways to formulate plans so that we get a little more consistent at swinging at pitches that make sense when it comes to breaking balls, and so forth. So again, in the big picture, just want to make sure that these guys understand that we’re all on the same page, and we’ll turn every stone over to make sure they get everything they need.”
Wait, Did You Say, “Run production coordinator?”:
You might have noticed above that Coles talked above about getting in touch with players to let them know that he and his, “... assistant hitting coach, run production coordinator or whoever the analytical guy is that’s with us,” are on the same page and preparing to do all they can to help hitters get where they want to be in Spring Training and in the regular season.
Is “run production coordinator” or an “analytical guy” a new role that will be filled along with the hitting coach and assistant hitting coach? A reporter asked Coles if he wanted to add an additional position to the coaching staff? Not exactly what he was saying.
“I haven’t sat down with our analytics group,” Coles explained, “and figured out or what the title is of the person that’s going to be working with us and doing a lot of the work, so I randomly threw that ‘run-production coordinator’ out there, so maybe that might be the title of that person, but that person is going to do a lot of the scouting work, putting the scouting reports together, you know, because again, that person is vitally important because the information that we give or get to the players is going to be what allows us to compete during games. So we got to make sure that all that stuff is spot-on.”
What sort of information does he want to provide for Nats’ hitters?
“What pitchers do, why they do it, when they do it, how they do it,” Coles said, “and then how we’re going to make our adjustments to attack that pitcher on a nightly basis. I think that the number two and myself are going to be doing a lot of the physical work, where we’re on the field, we’re either throwing BP, we’re having conversations, we’re on the back field, doing all the extra physical work that’s going to allow us to be successful, so it all goes hand-in-hand, it’s a trust factor with the information that we’re giving to the players, it’s a trust factor that when guys look at the information you know, ‘This is a little too much, this isn’t enough,’ you know, so we can make our adjustments and make sure that each individual guy gets everything they need, but at the end of the day the most important thing is for us to be prepared every night to attack and compete against whoever is on the mound, and they’ve got to have the information available to them that’s going to allow them to — and again, we have all the iPads in the dugouts and all the other stuff, so you’ll be able to see what guys’ pitches do and when they do it and all the other stuff, but knowing all the vital information and analytical information is going to allow us to, you know, tendencies and all the other stuff that some of these guys have so that it gives us a better chance to compete on a nightly basis.”
He did, however, note that if additional positions were created, it would help.
“My hope is that that’s possible, but even if it’s not, I mean, we can get it done between the framework of the two or three guys, it’s just a matter of having that one person that’s dialed into that area alone, and not having that person be torn away because he’s got to run out to throw BP or he’s got other stuff going on, he can dial into that information so that the consistency of that information is based solely on him and him being able to dial into without any outside influences, or any work things that he’s got to do other than just that job.”