SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Phillies did not hire a hitting coach this week at the general managers meetings, but their search did continue to narrow. A source said Thursday that Nationals assistant hitting coach Joe Dillon has emerged as the team’s likely choice.
The hitting coach is the lone vacancy remaining on new manager Joe Girardi’s staff. Dillon, 44, worked for the last two seasons under Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long, whose recommendation of Dillon carried weight with the Phillies because Long was the Yankees’ hitting coach for seven seasons when Girardi managed in the Bronx.
“I think we’re looking for the best possible candidate to work with our guys, and obviously with a new manager, it’s going to be important that the person is on the same page philosophically with Joe,” general manager Matt Klentak said. “We’re interviewing people with a variety of backgrounds, some of whom this would be their first time as a hitting coach and others that have done it for some time. We’re just looking for the best possible candidate. We’re not going in with a specific resume that someone has to have.”
The Phillies interviewed former hitting coach Matt Stairs, and expressed interest in Mets hitting coach Chili Davis, but they began their search with Dillon in the lead. Davis agreed this week to return to the Mets on a two-year deal, an agreement that might have been motivated by the Mets’ wanting to keep Davis away from joining Girardi, who was a teammate of Davis’ in the 1990s with the Yankees.
Dillon, 44, had a 12-year playing career, which included parts of four major-league seasons. He was Washington’s triple-A hitting coach for two seasons and spent two seasons as Miami’s minor-league hitting coordinator before returning to the Nationals in 2018 to work under Long.
Dillon is well-steeped in the new-age hitting techniques that the Phillies are teaching at the minor-league level and embraces the use of analytics. He’s a proponent of launch angle and teaching hitters to keep the ball in the air.
The Phillies bulked their lineup before last season and planned to hit their way to the playoffs. Instead, they finished below the league average in nearly every offensive category, fired hitting coaching John Mallee during the summer and hit the fifth-fewest homers in the National League.
Girardi can’t hire Long, who has coached the Nationals to the NL’s third-best slugging percentage over the last two seasons. So he’s zeroing in on the next closest option.
John Boggs, the agent for Cole Hamels, told MLB.com this week that his client plans to pitch at least five more seasons and has received interest from 13 teams. Count the Phillies as one of them.
Hamels has expressed numerous times throughout the last year his interest in returning to the Phillies, who are at least entertaining the idea.
“We’re going to be on the lookout for starting pitching,” Klentak said. “Cole, this is his first time going through free agency and the first time he has a chance to pick and choose where he’d like to pitch. Obviously, there’s a lot of people in our organization who know him very well. He’s one of a number of players that we’ll talk to and see if we can line up. At this stage, I wouldn’t read into it any further than that.”