Lansford looks to take Rox back in time
New hitting coach tries to get batters in touch with best swing
DENVER -- Carney Lansford is planning a reunion. He's calling selected Rockies hitters and discussing the good ol' days in hopes of reliving them.
If Lansford can put hitters such as Todd Helton, Seth Smith, Chris Iannetta, Ian Stewart and Ryan Spilborghs back in touch with their most effective swings, he hopes the Rockies can shake some of the inconsistency that limited them in 2010 and return to the playoffs next season.
Lansford worked for the Rockies as hitting coach at Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2007. He joined the Major League club in September that year and was around as the club advanced to its first World Series.
"I've already talked to some of them, and some of them I'm waiting on a phone call back," Lansford said. "I'm getting them to tell me what went wrong, and how they felt when they were successful. We have to get back to that. I'll also talk to some of the guys that I don't know that well.
"I'm also encouraging them to go back to '07 or even '08, when they felt good, and look at that. That's a good starting point."
Offensive inconsistency cost the Rockies in close ballgames. Several hitters had down years overall, and Lansford's familiarity can help in that respect. Lansford also will attack a problem that seems to come and go with players wearing purple pinstripes -- situational hitting.
In 2007, the Rockies were praised for their deft execution of fundamental tasks -- not only avoiding errors defensively, but providing the right at-bat for each situation. But in 2008, the Rockies' execution fell into disrepair. The following spring, then-manager Clint Hurdle brought in Don Baylor to replace Alan Cockrell as hitting coach, and instituted a game of "27 outs" in Spring Training to keep the team constantly aware of situations. After Jim Tracy replaced Hurdle in late May of 2009, the Rockies' execution returned and they went to the playoffs.
Tracy knew, however, that the situational hitting could be improved, and even before Spring Training he discussed "team at-bats." Baylor even placed cones along the power alleys, from the infield to the warning track, to remind players to use the big part of the field and not to become pull conscious. Yet, the habit of poor at-bats at key times was glaring.
The Rockies actually were third in the National League in batting with runners in scoring position at .269 and tied for third in RISP on-base percentage at .365. But there were stretches when the Rockies stood little hope of producing if NL batting champ Carlos Gonzalez and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who finished fourth at .321., weren't at the plate.
The switch to Lansford doesn't change the message.
"A hitter has to be unselfish and do the right thing, as far as situational hitting goes," Lansford said. "If you don't, it can cost you the game later. Teams that play fundamental baseball, with the talent that we have, usually win. Home runs are nice, and they're going to come, but there are times when what we need is to move the runner with less than two outs. You have to be a professional hitter, and hit with some pride.
"It's my job to keep them on track, as far as that goes. It's not going to be acceptable to get away from fundamental baseball."
Tracy likes what Lansford, a standout Major Leaguer with the Red Sox, Angels and Athletics in the 1970s and '80s, can bring.
"I wasn't here when Carney Lansford was with our organization, but I go back to the fact that I know what kind of player Carney Lansford was -- and he was a big part of championship ballclubs," Tracy said. "He hit second and had Rickey Henderson leading off. He had Rickey getting on and stealing bases in front of him, and set up Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. This guy has first-hand knowledge of what you need to do."
Lansford said he wants to work with the players in person this winter, whether they visit his Oregon home or he goes to them. He said the Rockies are discussing the possibility of having him come to Denver and bringing in hitters who live outside of Denver.
Lansford threw to Helton in the batting cage at the end of 2007, and believes he's capable of returning to his days of .320-plus batting averages if he can avoid future back injuries. He sees no reason that Stewart and Smith can't become stars, and has seen Iannetta and Spilborghs -- who found his stride in the second half and turned in a solid season -- comfortable in the batter's box.
He hopes to see all of them put up strong numbers in 2011, just like he remembers.
"When I was in there for the meeting, [I] walked into the office and said, 'I feel like I'm home,'" Lansford said.