When you get compared to Nick Saban — one of the most accomplished coaches in the history of organized sports — in your introductory press conference, it has to make you feel good.
New Philadelphia Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long said he got goosebumps when Joe Girardi, who he’ll work with for a second time, made that comparison Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m not sure how much of a philsophy change there’s going to be, but let me compare it this way. As everyone knows, I’m a huge college football fan. There are a lot of protégés of Nick Saban that have never beat him. It just happened for the first time,” Girardi said when asked how dramatic the change will be from previous hitting coach Joe Dillon, who worked under Long with the Washington Nationals.
“So that’s the way I would describe it. There’s a lot of protégés, but there’s one Nick Saban. There’s one Kevin Long.”
Long will have his work cut out in 2022, as the Phillies look for bounce-back seasons from both Didi Gregorius and Alec Bohm. The new Phillies hitting coach addressed those two and other topics in his introductory meeting with the Philadelphia media via Zoom Wednesday.
On What Went Wrong For Didi Gregorius Offensively In 2021, And How You Help Him To Rebound
“So Didi, for whatever reason, had a down year. I don’t know exactly the cause for that yet. I’m going to look into all his video and I’ll come up with a game plan. I’ll know what he was doing when he was right. And we’ll try to build it. You know, his psyche is probably a little down right now.
“They take a hit. Even as great as these players are, when they underperform, it eats at them. So my job is to get Didi’s psyche back, get him feeling good about himself and then talking about his swing. We’ll see what we can do to get him back to the player that he’s been in the past, and maybe, just maybe, he can be better than he was in the past — you never know.”
Long went on to discusses some of the success stories that he had this past season with the Nationals, including Kyle Schwarber and Josh Bell. He did also acknowledge that there are players every year, such as Victor Robles in 2021, that don’t perform at the level that they or the team expect. Getting them right becomes a focal point of the offseason.
“…Didi, obviously, is one that had a tough go of it, and we’ll get him back. I’m not worried about it. I think he’ll be just fine.”
On Alec Bohm’s Importance To The Phillies Moving Forward
“…I agree with you. I think young players are really, really important to big-market teams because you’re going to go out and get high-dollar and high-priced superstars. But the young players, if they can perform and perform at a decent level, you give yourself a chance to win championships.
“And I saw it with Robinson Canó and Brett Gardner when they were young, and Melky Cabrera. And I’ve also seen it with the Juan Soto‘s of the world, who can come in at league minimum or just over that and they really helped the ball club.”
Long says that next week he plans to go to the Phillies training facility in Clearwater and begin to build relationships with Bohm and J.T. Realmuto, both of whom are down there currently.
And it isn’t lost on Long how important it is for Alec Bohm to move past a sophomore slump that saw him slash just .247/.305/.342 in 380 at-bats.
“Alec is a big part of the Philadelphia Phillies and us winning a championship, as is every other player,” Long said of Bohm, who finished in a tie for second in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2020. “But this guy, I saw him in 2020 and he was one of the best hitters in the league. And it’s my job to figure out what he was doing then and try to get him back to that high-level performance.”
On Reuniting With Bryce Harper
Long’s first season as Nationals hitting coach in 2018 happened to be the final that Bryce Harper spent with the team. While Harper was an All-Star and homered 34 times that season, it was seen as an underwhelming contract year for the former NL MVP.
Still, the two developed a very good relationship and have had a chance to talk since news broke that Long was joining the Phillies staff.
“We talked over the phone — I was in San Diego and he was in [Las] Vegas,” Long said. “And I just told him that he was going to have a familiar hitting coach. He said ‘I just got goosebumps,’ and I said ‘Good, me too.’
“So we’re excited to be reunited. Anytime you lose a staff member — and he lost Joe Dillon — and you can get someone that you’re familiar with and trust in, it’s a big deal. And he was obviously disappointed Joe [Dillon] was let go, but he knows it’s a business and to come and get me, as Joe [Girardi] and Dave [Dombrowski] did, I think it’s gonna work out really well for all of us.”
On How Familiar He Is With The Phillies Lineup Outside Of Harper
After working as Girardi’s hitting coach with the New York Yankees from 2007-2014, Long spent three seasons as the Mets hitting coach and has been with the Nationals since. So he’s had quite a bit of time to get familiar with the Phillies.
Just how in-tune is he with some of the key players he’ll be working with outside of Harper?
“It definitely helps that I’ve seen this team and I’ve seen these guys,” the 54-year-old said. “Unfortunately, I don’t watch their hitters as much as I watch our own. So I’ve got to get familiar with them as soon as I can. But I definitely have a good feel for the lineup for their team.”
“I know their pitchers better than I know their hitters right now because we’ve had to face them. And I can tell you, Zack Wheeler is a really good pitcher and so is Aaron Nola and so is Ranger Suárez. We didn’t get to see Kyle Gibson, but I know what that group can do. And I’m excited for the opportunity to help our offense help them, if that makes sense.”
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