Plantier thrilled to be Padres' new hitting coach
SAN DIEGO (AP)
Phil Plantier is thrilled to be the new hitting coach of the San Diego Padres, even though it's been the least-secure job on the coaching staff since Petco Park opened in 2004.
The former big leaguer, who had three stints with the Padres in the 1990s, was hired on Tuesday.
Plantier, a left-handed hitter known for his pronounced crouch at the plate, is the sixth person to hold the job since cavernous Petco Park opened. By comparison, the Padres have had just two managers since then, and three general managers.
''When I played here it was a special experience, and to get to come back here as hitting coach is a great opportunity,'' Plantier said. ''We believe we have a talented group of young players mixed in with a group of veterans. We're hoping to get better. We want to compete to win this year.''
The Padres finished last in the NL West at 71-91 last year, which cost hitting coach Randy Ready his job.
Plantier isn't swayed by the fact that Padres hitting coaches seem to be hired to get fired.
''I think that's the beautiful thing about major league baseball,'' he said. ''It's about production, and winning ballgames. If you don't, you get fired. But I think this is a great opportunity.''
Plantier was hitting coach and interim manager at the Padres' Class A affiliate Lake Elsinore in 2011. He helped lead the Storm to their first California League championship since 2001. Before that, he served as hitting coach and manager at the Double-A level as well as one season as hitting coordinator in the Seattle Mariners organization.
Plantier has a lot of work to do. The low-payroll Padres had the lowest batting average in the NL (.237); the second-highest strikeout total in the majors (1,320); and scored only 593 runs, second-lowest in the NL.
He also said the Padres hitters can't let Petco Park's spacious dimensions get in their heads.
''Obviously the numbers are what they are. The numbers decrease because of the ballpark, like other ballparks increase numbers,'' Plantier said.
''At the same time, the bottom line is that two teams play on the same field, so it's more about beating them that day. So I don't buy into that. It's something that we'll talk to the players about. We're going to address it in a way guys need to understand, that there are benefits to being in a place like that. Let's face it, there's a lot of grass out there to hit. I do believe in a doubles mentality rather than hitting balls with a lot of air time under them.''
Plantier said the Padres can't totally disregard Petco's dimensions, but players need to realize their strengths.
''So much of this game is mental. We need to have the ability to create a culture, an environment in which the players change their focus where it's not on where they're playing, but competing and beating the other side and beating the guy on the mound.''
Besides Ready, the other Padres hitting coaches during the team's time at Petco Park have been Dave Magadan, Merv Rettenmund, Wally Joyner and Jim Lefebvre. All were fired except Joyner, who resigned late in the 2008 season, before he could be fired.
The Padres will hire a second hitting coach to help take the pressure off Plantier.
`'I love the idea,'' Plantier said. ''The workload that's involved in the course of the day for a hitting coach is tremendous.''
Plantier was a career .243 hitter in parts of eight big league seasons. He had 34 homers and 100 RBIs with the Padres in 1993. On Dec. 28, 1994, he was dealt to Houston as part of a 12-player trade that brought Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley to San Diego.
Manager Bud Black was impressed that Plantier was brave enough to want a job in which his predecessors have been made scapegoats.
''I think that's part of what Phil is,'' Black said. ''He's got an edge to him. He's a guy who knows where he's been in his career, coming from New Hampshire out to the West Coast, playing for the Red Sox, being with a couple different organizations. There's a survivor mode to Phil and a strong desire to bring out the best in players on the hitting side.''
Black said Plantier ''shined'' during his interview. ''The guy loves everything about hitting.''