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Phillies’ search for hitting coach focusing on Matt Stairs, Joe Dillon, Chili Davis

The Phillies, according to a source, have narrowed their search to Nationals assistant hitting coach Joe Dillon, former Phillies hitting coach Matt Stairs, and Mets hitting coach Chili Davis.

Matt Stairs spent just one season as Phillies hitting coach.
Matt Stairs spent just one season as Phillies hitting coach.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Joe Girardi’s coaching staff is nearing completion as a source said Monday that three candidates have emerged in the Phillies’ search to hire a hitting coach.

The Phillies, according to a source, have permission to interview Nationals assistant hitting coach Joe Dillon and interviewed former Phillies hitting coach Matt Stairs over the phone. Chili Davis, who spent last season as the Mets hitting coach but is not yet under contract for 2020, is also a candidate.

Phillies GM Matt Klentak arrived Monday at the general managers’ meetings, which run until Thursday. A decision on the team’s hitting coach, which is the last remaining vacancy on Girardi’s staff, could come this week.

Dillon worked in Washington the last two seasons under Kevin Long, who was Girardi’s hitting coach for seven seasons with the Yankees. A second baseman and outfielder, Dillon, 44, spent parts of four seasons in the majors with three teams. He brought cutting-edge techniques to the Nationals, introducing teaching methods that were inspired by neurologists and intended to strengthen hitters’ cognitive skills.

Long described Dillon to the Washington Post as the “best assistant in baseball.” Dillon would provide a balance between new-age teachings and old-school baseball, which makes him an attractive candidate.

The Nationals finished seventh this season in slugging percentage, second in on-base percentage, and sixth in batting average. The Phillies did not rate better than 18th in any of those three categories. Dillon was Miami’s minor-league hitting coordinator for two seasons before returning to the Nationals, where he spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons as their triple-A hitting coach.

Stairs, a hero of the Phillies 2008 World Series championship team, returned to the team as their hitting coach in 2017 after spending three seasons around the team as a broadcaster. Stairs’ hitters, a far less talented cast than the current group, improved in nearly every offensive category in his lone season, but he was not retained by the Phillies when Gabe Kapler was hired before the 2018 season. The 51-year-old spent 2018 as San Diego’s hitting coach, but he was fired after one season.

Davis, 59, joined the Mets last season after being fired following one season as the Cubs’ hitting coach. The New York Post reported earlier this month that Davis, who is still being paid by the Cubs through 2020, is seeking a multiyear contract from the Mets. In Chicago, Davis replaced John Mallee, who was fired by the Cubs before being hired by the Phillies, who fired him last summer.

The Cubs led the National League in batting average in 2018 and were second in on-base percentage, but Davis was fired after the team’s production dipped in the second half. Davis won three World Series titles during a 19-year playing career and also served as hitting coach with Boston and Oakland. He oversaw the rise this season of several young Mets hitters, including Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeill.

The Mets ranked sixth in the NL last season in average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Davis stresses a situational-hitting philosophy and took the Mets away from an approach based on launch angles, yet the team still had the fifth-highest home run total in the National League. Davis may not be as analytically inclined as Dillon, but he has still found a way to produce power.

The Phillies were attracted to Girardi not only for his 2009 World Series ring, but for his ability to find a balance between being new age and old school. He’s open to analytics but does not close himself off to traditional baseball methods. Bryan Price, whom Girardi hired last month as pitching coach, has a similar approach. And it would be no surprise if Girardi’s hitting coach thought the same way.