Charlie Manuel took up residence in the Phillies indoor batting cage at 10:45 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 18. Rhys Hoskins, in his weird pregame attire — shorts over tights - entered at 11. Scott Kingery, wearing his samurai-style headband, followed five minutes later.
Only one voice came from the depths of the cage; Manuel’s. The only other sound was the whack, whack, whack of baseballs being blistered. This session, which preceded a Phillies day game, was one of an ongoing reclamation project. Manuel left his role as senior adviser Aug. 13 to replace cerebral hitting coach John Mallee. Manuel — the 75-year-old winningest manager in Phillies history -- is more folksy, more a man of the people ... and more qualified to be a hitting coach than anyone who ever wore a Phillies uniform. He coaches common sense, uses real words, and treats players like people, not robots.
Ol’ Uncle Chuck told Scotty JetPax to raise his hands and lay off the high cheese. Chollie told Hoss to use right field — same as he taught Manny Ramirez and Big Jim Thome.
In his 13 games since the Aug. 18 session Hoskins is hitting .261, but his .426 on-base percentage and his .991 OPS better tell the tale. He’s also been crushing it in the past six games: .400 with two homers, six RBIs and five extra-base hits.
In his 13 games since the session, Kingery is hitting .341 with three homers, 14 RBIs, seven extra-base hits and a whopping 1.067 OPS.
“We are very happy with the contributions that Charlie has made,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said Sunday.
Happy? He should be ecstatic.
Klentak signed Kingery to a six-year, $24 million contract before the 2018 season, which also was before Kingery ever played a major-league game. Kingery was atrocious. He charged out of the blocks this season but lost himself at the end of June.
In his first 308 games, Hoskins cemented himself as a prototype cleanup hitter with 75 home runs and a keen eye, but, beginning July 31, he fell off the map for almost a month.
Then along came Charlie.
On Sunday, before the Phillies faced the Mets, Manuel stopped at the top of the steps that lead to the clubhouse tunnel and talked about that day in the cage and what he’s doing to fix his two most important projects.
Kingery? Just talking to Kingery about keeping hands above the ball, keeps him from getting steep on the ball and upper-cutting the ball. Kingery likes the ball from the belt down. They throw him the high fastball to try to get the ball over his hands, to chase up. I think he becomes a much better hitter, and his swing smooths out when he does that.
A few hours later, in the eighth inning, Kingery smoked a low, 1-0, 96-mph fastball to the left-center field gap that cleared the bases and beat the Mets. On Tuesday, his leadoff homer in the eighth inning gave the Phillies a four-run cushion over the Reds. It was an 0-2, thigh-high, outer-half, 96-mph sinker, over the right-field fence.
“The high pitch is hard to hit, no matter who’s throwing it. It’s tough to lay off the ones up top,” Kingery explained. “It looks real good, and a lot of times it’s 95-plus, and you think if you just touch it it’ll go out. Sometimes, you just get a little excited.”
Rhys? We did talk about his leg lift, and the base — where his stride was narrow at times and long at the other, and he was opening his front side up (to pull the ball). He’s started hitting the ball in the middle of the field, and to right field.
Hoskins ripped an RBI double to right field to help beat the Pirates last Wednesday, mashed a 400-foot RBI double to center field Friday and drove another ball to deep right, singled to right on Sunday, and his line drive to right Tuesday drove in another run. Hoskins almost constantly faces a shift — only 10 of his hits and only one of his 27 home runs this season have gone to the right of center field — but that might change.
“We’re definitely not changing drastically,” Hoskins said Sunday. “The biggest thing has been trying to be really under control. I narrowed my stance a little bit to try and feel my feet under me a little bit more. My movements feel smaller.”
Which makes it easier to use his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame to push pitches on the outside part of the plate.
“Because of the simplicity that I’ve had the past week, I’m able to go that way instead of gripping the bat a little tighter and striding a little longer and trying to pull the ball.”
Sounds simple, right? Sometimes, it is.
Manuel didn’t mention analytic terms like “exit velocity” when he talked about Hoskins and Kingery, but then, Manuel hadn’t heard of exit velocity when he developed Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome for the Cleveland Indians, both of whom are like sons to Manuel. Those sons combined for 1,167 home runs. Manuel wasn’t worried about “launch angle” when he turned Ryan Howard into an MVP.
Manuel believes Hoskins has similar potential: “He can be a big-time hitter,” he said.
Hoskins didn’t look big-time in the 30 games from July 16 through Aug. 18, the day of the long session. He hit .148 with a .290 on-base percentage, and a .586 OPS -- an OPS decrease of more than 350 points, or 38 percent.
“Rhys had struggled through much of (August) and recently has gotten himself going, and that’s exciting to me,” Klentak said.
Kingery wasn’t as bad as Hoskins, but he was bad for a longer period. In his 44 games from June 24 through Aug. 18, Kingery hit .214 with a .287 on-base percentage.
He’s keeping his hands high. Hoskins is striding short and using right field.