Pete Mackanin tells it like it is. He doesn't heap undue praise on a player, nor does he shy away from criticizing one who's struggling. Asked Tuesday if he could pinpoint any Phillies hitter who has made the necessary adjustments so far this year, the manager drew a blank.
"I can't tell you [Odubel] Herrera's made adjustments because he could spin himself into the ground and then hit a line drive to left field," Mackanin joked. "But he hits.
"[Maikel] Franco needs to quit pulling off the ball. [Ryan Howard] has been getting himself out all year by chasing out of the zone. Same thing with Freddy [Galvis]. [Cesar] Hernandez needs to handle off-speed stuff better."
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It's been a true struggle at the plate all season for the Phils, who enter Tuesday night's game against the Cubs ranked 29th in runs (188), 28th in batting average (.234) and last in on-base percentage (.288). They got off to a strong start because of their pitching, but lately the formula of solid pitching and one big hit per game hasn't worked. The Phillies have lost 13 of 17 games to fall to 28-30 on the season.
Mackanin's hands are tied when it comes to the lineup. His best hitter right now is Tommy Joseph, who sits Tuesday night to allow Howard to start for the first time in a week. Even though Joseph is hot, Mackanin wants to give Howard one last chance to prove he belongs in the lineup. If Howard again goes 0 for 4 with two strikeouts, you could see Mackanin officially name Joseph the starting first baseman in the coming days. The manager said Monday he's nearing a long-term decision regarding playing time at first base (see story).
With Joseph out Tuesday, Galvis of all people is batting third. The shortstop is a career .240/.279/.358 hitter. Tells you all you need to know about the 2016 Phillies.
"You hear about guys diving over the plate, I'd like to see more of our guys dive," Mackanin said. "Everybody wants to be a good hitter, meaning a smart hitter, so what happens is they don't want to swing at a bad pitch. And to me, a lot of our hitters are counter-punchers. They're not aggressive, [they think], 'I'm gonna hit this pitch ... no I'm not.'
"You've got to learn how to go after the fastball and adjust to the breaking ball. I feel like our hitters wait to see if it's a good pitch and then they swing, so they get beat by the fastball and then they're behind in the count and then they get panicky and they chase out of the zone. To me, if you're a good enough hitter to spot the pitcher a fastball, you better be a good enough hitter to not swing at a breaking ball in the dirt with two strikes. That's what [hitting coach Steve Henderson] has been preaching, we've been preaching: Early in the count, look for a mistake over the plate. Hunt the fastball, don't get to two strikes."
Done with Bourjos?
Another Phillie who has struggled offensively all season is outfielder Peter Bourjos. Signed for his glove, Bourjos has hit .196 with 10 extra-base hits, five walks and 44 strikeouts in 158 plate appearances.
He started Monday night because of past success against Jon Lester, but Bourjos has become an afterthought lately following the additions of Jimmy Paredes and Cody Asche.
Mackanin says it's gotten to the point where Bourjos' solid glove is no longer outweighing his offensive deficiencies.
"Unfortunately, yes," Mackanin said. "He's got to make a drastic change to his approach offensively. He's got that tendency to pull off the ball too much. I love his defense, but he's got to make adjustments mechanically, like a lot of our guys."