Joe Girardi buttoned a Phillies jersey for the first time Monday afternoon, but the new manager’s work had already begun.
Girardi has spent the last week finalizing his coaching staff for next season and, after conducting interviews alongside general manager Matt Klentak, seems to be closing in on a pitching coach.
Bryan Price, who most recently managed the Cincinnati Reds, is the front-runner to be Girardi’s pitching coach, according to a source. The Phillies’ interest in Price, who has been a highly regarded pitching coach for three teams, was first reported by NBC Sports Philadelphia.
Girardi hired Price last summer to be Team USA’s pitching coach, but Girardi left his post as that team’s manager earlier this month to pursue a return to the majors. Around the same time, Price turned down Arizona’s offer to be its pitching coach.
Girardi still also needs to hire a hitting coach. He inherited a nearly complete coaching staff with the Phillies, who invited back nine coaches before hiring him.
Along with Price, the Phillies are considering Larry Rothschild, who was fired this week by the Yankees and was Girardi’s pitching coach in the Bronx for six seasons.
“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,” Girardi said Monday. “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.”
The Phillies fired first-year pitching coach Chris Young after his staff finished with the National League’s fifth-highest ERA while Rick Kranitz, who was fired to make room for Young, guided Atlanta to the NL’s fifth-best ERA. The Phillies starters faded behind Aaron Nola, and the bullpen was ravaged by injuries.
The new pitching coach will inherit a rotation that is incomplete and a bullpen that needs to be rebuilt. Nola and Jake Arrieta, who exercised his $20 million option for 2020, appear to be the only rotation locks. The Phillies will bid heavily in free agency, with the biggest prize being Houston’s Gerrit Cole.
They will likely add two starters, leaving one spot for Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, or Zach Eflin. All three pitchers struggled last season with inconsistencies, but perhaps a new voice could tap into the promise each has flashed.
Price, 57, pitched five seasons in the minor leagues and then spent 10 years coaching in Seattle’s minor-league system. He reached the majors in 2000 and was the Mariners pitching coach for six seasons, moved to the Diamondbacks in 2007 for three seasons, and then was Cincinnati’s pitching coach for four seasons before becoming the Reds manager after the 2013 season.
Cincinnati’s pitching staff ranked third and fourth in National League ERA in Price’s final two years as pitching coach in 2012 and 2013. His Diamondbacks staffs in 2007 and 2008 posted the NL’s fourth- and fifth-best ERAs, and his Mariners staff in 2001 finished with the best mark in the American League.
“Obviously, a pitching coach that’s in tune with each guy’s mechanics and what makes them tick and what helps them be successful,” Girardi said Monday when asked what he’s looking for in a pitching coach. “Now, you can gain that knowledge from a lot of different places of what makes them successful. From videotape, from analytics, from different machines that you could help them improve pitches.
"But it’s the guy that has the ability to do that, but just as important is a real ability to relate to the pitchers, sometimes the struggles they’re going through, and that there’s a deep relationship there. The pitching coach has a tough job because there’s so many pitchers that they deal with. But he has to know each one of them really well, and they have to trust him, and that’s really important.”
The search for a pitching coach appears to be farther along than the search for a hitting coach. The Phillies dismissed hitting coach John Mallee last summer and replaced him with Charlie Manuel, who has returned to the front office. An ideal hitting coach would possess a blend of Mallee’s fidelity for analytics and Manuel’s old-school style.
Phil Plantier, who was Girardi’s Team USA hitting coach and played eight seasons in the majors, could be an option with the Phillies. Plantier, currently the Yankees’ triple-A hitting coach, spent three seasons as San Diego’s hitting coach and was an early adapter to analytics.
Former slugger Dante Bichette, who was one of Girardi’s closest friends during his playing career and spent the 2013 season as Colorado’s hitting coach, could also be an option. Under Bichette, the Rockies led the National League in slugging percentage, but he resigned to stay closer to his family. One son, Bo, plays shortstop for Toronto, and Dante Jr. is a corner infielder in the Washington organization.
"You start thinking about pitching coaches and hitting coaches — those are really two important positions,” Girardi said Monday. “They handle as many players as anyone when you start talking about a coach.”
That’s why Girardi started determining who his coaches would be, even before he buttoned his uniform.