SAN FRANCISCO – Even as the Giants nudged longtime pitching coach Dave Righetti from their dugout, they sought and heeded his recommendation for a successor.
And when they selected a hitting coach to replace Hensley Meulens, they chose a name off a short list that Meulens himself provided.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise: both new hires, former A’s pitching coach Curt Young and former Houston Astros hitting assistant Alonzo Powell, sounded an awful lot like their predecessors while speaking on a conference call with reporters on Monday.
Young lauded the rotation’s durability and cited the importance of getting 200-inning seasons from the starting pitchers. Powell spent almost no time discussing launch angles and the importance of power, instead stressing a “keep the line moving” approach that can work in the Giants’ ample ballpark.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy expressed enthusiasm for both new hires.
“Like all the changes being made, it’s about new ideas and new perspective,” said Bochy, who will retain Meulens as his bench coach next season while former bench coach Ron Wotus moves to the third base coaching box.
“Sometimes you move the band around a little bit and it does break things up. It ignites a different type of passion in what they’re doing.”
That band could use a bit more thump after the Giants hit the fewest home runs in the major leagues, and Powell, 53, helped to orchestrate plenty of percussion while coaching the Houston Astros and their high-octane offense to the World Series championship.
The Astros averaged a major league-best 5.53 runs per game and had eight players who hit at least 15 home runs. The Giants had just one: Brandon Belt.
Giants GM Bobby Evans cited Powell’s preparation, experience, work ethic, passion and positivity – the final one an important trait for any hitting coach who has a home locker at AT&T Park. He said the Giants pursued him on Meulens’ recommendation.
“He’s well versed in understanding the challenges we face in getting the most out of the hitters we have,” Evans said.
The Giants received permission to interview Powell on the travel day between Games 2 and 3 of the World Series; he caught a flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco for a round of interviews.
It was a literal homecoming for Powell, who graduated from San Francisco’s Lincoln High and began his professional career as a Giants minor leaguer after signing as an undrafted free agent. Most of his immediate family still lives in the Bay Area, he said.
Powell did not play a game as a Giant. He was traded in 1985 to Montreal in a prospect deal for deal for pitcher Bill Laskey, and made his debut while playing 14 games for the Expos in 1987 before returning to the big leagues with the Seattle Mariners for 57 games in 1991. Powell played seven seasons in the Japanese Central League, where he won three batting titles.
Throughout all the stops far and wide in Powell’s playing career, he kept the same player as his idol.
“I can still remember when I was probably 8 or 9 years old, my grandfather taking me to Candlestick Park, saying, `If you want to be a good player, go watch this guy in center field, No. 24,’” Powell said. “Willie Mays was obviously a favorite. It means a lot to me to come back and be able to coach in this organization that has been quite successful in the last 10 years. It’s an honor to be a part of it.”
Bochy, who enjoys a three-run homer yet witnessed so few in his favor last season, pointed to Powell’s experience the past two years in Houston while coaching players like George Springer, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve.
Yet Powell did not sound as if he’ll arrive in spring training ready to teach from the uppercut textbook, or implore hitters to swing for the fences with two strikes.
“You’ve also got to understand the ballpark,” Powell said. “You’re not just going to turn around and hit home runs. The biggest thing is, we’ve got to find hits. We’ve got to find walks. We have to find a way to get on base to keep the chain moving to the next guy.
“You have to understand the NL West is one of the hardest places to hit in baseball. We have to do the little things to compete, get on base, get a runner over, get a runner in. Those are the things we’ll have to be efficient at to succeed the way we would like to succeed.”
Said Bochy: “What I like about Houston is they cut back their strikeouts and were able to play the little ball to keep the line moving, as he talked about.”
Young, 57, has been out of a job since the A’s fired him this past June. He has served two stints as the pitching coach in Oakland, first from 2004-10 and again beginning in 2012. He served as the pitching coach with the Boston Red Sox in 2011.
The Giants liked not only his experience but his track record working with young pitchers as they made the development jump to the major leagues. He also clicked well with one of their own, right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who thrived for two months with the A’s in 2014.
Samardzija led the NL with 207 2/3 innings pitched this past season while walking a league-low 1.4 batters per nine innings, yet he also surrendered 30 home runs – including six three-run shots – to leave him with a mediocre 4.42 ERA.
Young will be tasked with getting more out of Samardzija as well as left-hander Matt Moore, whose 5.52 ERA was the highest among NL starters.
“It’s a guy that Rags recommends and knows, and had success in Oakland when he led some very good pitching through some successful seasons, as well as a guy who is very well respected and works well with his manager,” Evans said. “He’s strategic and thoughtful about his approach. He believes in his players and is a presence to add to our staff.”
Young, who was Bochy’s pitching coach in an All-Star tour of Japan in 2006, said he would blend common sense with analytics while helping pitchers shape their repertoire and sequence their stuff against hitters. He cited pitch selection as an area that could help Moore get back on track.
Young offered nothing but praise for his predecessor, Righetti, who had been the Giants’ pitching coach since 2000.
“What Dave did is really unmatched,” Young said. “When you’re part of a team that has won three World Series out of five years, you’re doing something very, very well, and doing it the right way, and that’s definitely something I want to continue. Hopefully I get a chance to talk to Dave about some of the things that helped these guys.”
Young will work in tandem with new bullpen coach Matt Herges, who replaces Mark Gardner. The Giants still haven’t settled on a hitting assistant to replace Steve Decker.
Decker, Gardner and Righetti were reassigned to roles within the organization
Although the new hires come from organizations that have a reputation for embracing analytics in not only roster decisions but also game management, both Bochy and Evans underplayed that narrative.
“It’s so widespread in the game now that it’s hard to get away from guys who have a sense for the value of the information that’s out there, and these guys were no different,” Evans said. “Again, I’m very proud of the fact our coaching staff for the last decade has continued to drive deeper into what these levels of information and numbers mean, and that goes back to when Bochy first got here.”
Bochy said he sought experienced voices with a positive approach who were comfortable interpreting and presenting data as part of their duties – not coaches who would seek to toss players into a mold in an attempt to adjust to the game’s latest trends.
“You have to adapt to the club you have,” Bochy said. “We’ll see what fits best for our club. You can’t be who you’re not.”
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