A light but steady rain dampened Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night, silencing the fans among the sparse crowd who were brave enough to sit through the fifth inning of the Phillies’ 4-2 win over the Cubs. And that made it pretty easy to hear -- even across the park in the home dugout -- when a group in the left-field stands began chanting, “We want Charlie.”
It was the final night before the Charlie Manuel era gets a second wind in Philadelphia, this time as the hitting coach. The Phillies have a .447 winning percentage since they fired their all-time winningest manager in August of 2013. Manuel, likely watching the game on TV before he joins the team on Wednesday, might have enjoyed hearing the crowd’s chants stream through the broadcast.
But just a few pitches later, the Phillies provided Manuel with some hope about the offense he’s about to inherit when J.T. Realmuto homered to right field to give the Phillies a one-run lead. They have struggled to hit homers this season, but the new hitting coach knows the potential is there.
“Just call it what it is, the team has not hit as many home runs as I thought it would, or as many of you thought we would,” general manager Matt Klentak said at the pregame news conference to announce Manuel’s new job. "Now, I want to caution, I don’t think Charlie will come in here and tell a group of hitters, ‘Hey do this and you’ll hit more homers.’ It’s not that simple and I understand that.”
Manuel will inherit a lineup that has flaws the team did not foresee when it assembled the roster this winter. The Phillies don’t hit enough homers, fail to produce when runners are in scoring position, and lack extra-base power. Too often, they play games like Tuesday’s: score a few runs and hold your breath that it is enough.
Realmuto hit a go-ahead double in the seventh after the Cubs had tied the game following his homer. He drove in two of the team’s four runs and is batting .310 since June 29. He has regained his timing at the plate, feels comfortable again, and is working himself into hitter’s counts. The results are showing and the Phillies are a different lineup when he’s producing.
The Phillies lost Corey Dickerson in the third inning when he was hit by a pitch in the finger. Kapler said X-rays were negative and the outfielder is “day to day” with a contusion. Roman Quinn tripled in a run in the eighth that made Hector Neris’ ninth inning a little bit easier to watch. The Phillies struck out 15 times and scored just four runs, but it was enough.
“If we are going to make the kind of run that we think we’re capable of, it’s going to be because we score runs,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We have a chance to limit damage. We have a chance to stay in baseball games. But the strength of our team right now is our offense. It hasn’t been where it’s needed to be thus far this season. But we certainly have the talent and guys with the track record and a bench that’s deeper now than it has been.”
Manuel’s last game in the Phillies’ dugout was Aug. 14, 2013. He returns to the dugout six years later to the day and his first game as hitting coach will come against Cole Hamels, the pitcher he rode to a World Series championship in 2008. The Phillies have played 971 games since firing Manuel and their offense has never produced the way it did when he was in the dugout.
A new hitting coach will not be a cure-all, but it is worth a try to hear a new voice. And no one in the clubhouse seems to need a different voice than Rhys Hoskins, who struck out Tuesday in all four of his plate appearances and has just eight hits in his last 77 at-bats. Hoskins worked briefly with Manuel in the minors and has been around the former manager during spring training. The Phillies, if they are to rally with Manuel, will need Hoskins to be on track. Hoskins will be one of the new hitting coach’s top priorities.
“Every guy is different, and I think it’s huge if a hitting coach can realize that,” Hoskins said. “I tend to like a little more information than some guys. I like specific information right before the game or in the batting cage at 4 o’clock or when a reliever comes into the game, I like to know certain things. Charlie and I, I’m sure, will talk over the next couple days and go over those things. It’s all about being prepared.”
Jason Vargas limited the Cubs to just two runs in six innings. The left-hander pitched to contact, induced seven ground outs and survived despite striking out just one batter. But both runs he allowed came an inning after the Phillies gave him a one-run lead.
Realmuto homered in the bottom of the fifth -- moments after the group of fans started chanting for Charlie -- to put the Phillies ahead, 2-1. But Vargas allowed a homer to Nicholas Castellanos on his first pitch of the sixth. The lead lasted just a few minutes.