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10/16/11 11:26 AM ET
Coolbaugh helps fine-tune Rangers' hitters
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- There is one significant difference between the two hitting coaches that the Rangers have employed this season.
Thad Bosley tried to reinvent the wheel. Scott Coolbaugh just tries to add air to the tires when they get a little low.
"He allows you to be yourself," outfielder Josh Hamilton said. "He understands that as a hitter, you know what works for you. He's not looking to change you but fine-tune what works for you."
Turns out Coolbaugh might just have been what the Rangers offense needed to get back to the World Series for the second straight year. Coolbaugh, who began the season as the Triple-A hitting coach at Round Rock, still seems a bit stunned at his change of fortunes, but the numbers suggest that he played a significant role in the Rangers getting back to the World Series.
So what if the Rangers lost six of seven on their first road trip after Coolbaugh replaced Bosley on June 8? It did get better. He called a meeting with his hitters before Game 6 on Saturday night just to go over the Tigers pitching one more time and to offer a few reminders on how to approach the game.
The Rangers responded with a 15-5 victory, and a guy who a few years ago was running a home construction business in North Texas is now a World Series hitting coach.
"For me, it has been surreal," Coolbaugh said. "I never foresaw coming up in the middle of a season like that. When I first came up, we were one game up and on that first road trip we really struggled. But these guys really got it turned around and I'm just pleased to be a part of this."
The Rangers do not lack for offensive talent and it is hard to imagine that being a problem for them all year. But the simple fact is that the Rangers were hitting .264 with a .431 slugging percentage and an average of 4.69 runs per game under Bosley. After Coolbaugh took over they hit .294 with a .477 slugging percentage and an average of 5.64 runs per game.
Numbers were not why the Rangers decided to make the change. Bosley, who was hired after Clint Hurdle left to manage the Pirates, was not getting through to his hitters. Bosley had been a successful hitting coach with the Athletics but suggested too many drastic changes to too many players.
The Rangers had led the league in hitting in 2010 but were sixth in slugging percentage. Bosley sought ways to return the power to the Rangers offense and make them better. One way was to be more aggressive early in the counts. That was perceived as being against the emphasis on situational hitting that carried the Rangers to the World Series in 2010.
But it was less hitting philosophy and more of a lack of connection with the players that cost Bosley his job. Communication has not been a problem for Coolbaugh.
"He's easy-going and he is consistent," outfielder David Murphy said. "He keeps you relaxed and he keeps you prepared. He stepped into his role gradually. He understood there were a lot of guys who have been in the league for a long time and they know their swings. He's not one who is just going to jump in and change things.
"He just has a way of saying things at the right time. He knows hitting, he loves to talk about it and he loves to teach it."
Coolbaugh also had to get on board with manager Ron Washington. Bosley and Washington were close. But Washington has never had a problem with a coach as long as they shared the same philosophy.
Washington has never made secret how he feels about hitting. Washington has always preached fundamentals, situational hitting and -- using one of his many catch phrases -- "playing the game the way it is presented." Hurdle was a fanatic in that approach and his players adopted. Bosley began steering away from it and Washington was concerned that the Rangers were beginning to veer off-course even more after Coolbaugh.
They had to have a couple of early heart-to-heart chats to make sure the hitting coach knew what the manager expected. But Coolbaugh had learned much from Hurdle working with him in Spring Training last year and knew what the manager wanted.
"I've had a great relationship with him," Washington said. "I told him what I expected. I told him I was not going to be looking over his shoulder, but it was up to him to get it done. He has done a great job. He believes in the fundamentals like I do and he believes in doing what the game asks you to do. If there was a transition that he had to make, it was understanding that part of the game. He does."
A number of hitters have flourished under him. Most notable is catcher Mike Napoli, who was hitting .232 with 12 home runs, 33 RBIs and a .529 slugging percentage at the All-Star break. In the second half, he hit .383 with 18 home runs, 42 RBIs and a .706 slugging percentage.
Napoli admitted that he had a hard time communicating with Bosley. That wasn't the case with Coolbaugh.
"We just clicked," Napoli said. "He's just easy to talk to and more willing to listen to what the guys have to say."
There are no magic formulas or intricate hitting theories being offered. There is not a Scott Coolbaugh hitting video available at your local store. Coolbaugh recognizes that each hitter is different and is willing to listen. His goal is to create a comfort zone for each hitter individually. What works for Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton, does not apply to Elvis Andrus and Endy Chavez. Michael Young and Adrian Beltre have 24 years of experience between them and know what they are doing.
But he also knows he can't just snap his fingers and keep Nelson Cruz from chasing pitches low and away, or get Mitch Moreland to shorten his swing.
"You got nine guys in a lineup and on any given day, one of these guys [is] going to be going cold," Coolbaugh said. "Once you get one guy on his feet, you also have another guy who needs help getting on his feet. That's why I like being a hitting coach. You can't just sit back and watch things. You have to grind it out each day with each guy, talking to them about mechanics and how to make adjustments.
"I tried to insert a relaxed atmosphere and try to facilitate what their needs are. I think they feel I have their best interests at heart and I'll do what I can to prepare them for a game."