Commentary

Scott Coolbaugh tackles moods, swings

Rangers' new but familiar hitting coach has feel for batters by getting them to open up

Updated: June 28, 2011, 3:00 PM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Ask Texas Rangers hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh where his office is, and he won't point to the conference room or lockers in the coaches' area of the clubhouse. He'll just start walking to the batting cages deep in the bowels of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

"If we want to go hit in the cages, he's always there," designated hitter Michael Young said.

[+] EnlargeScott Coolbaugh
AP Photo/Sharon EllmanRangers DH Michael Young appreciates the constant presence and perception of new hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh (right).
It's where Coolbaugh is most comfortable working with his hitters as a part-psychologist, part-swing coach, on a daily basis. It's in that setting where he gets to know more about his hitters. And it's not just the mechanics of their swings he's interested in exploring.

"I ask them how they feel first," Coolbaugh said. "I don't go in there and say, 'Hey, come here. Here's what you're doing wrong.' I'll sit there with them, ask them what they see. I get them to open up and give me some feedback on what they feel they're seeing. Maybe they're not seeing the same thing I'm seeing.

"We open the conversation in that regard rather than going in there and pulling a guy aside and saying this and this are wrong. More important to me is how they are feeling mentally, are they confident? If not, why aren't they?"

Coolbaugh then goes about helping each guy the best way he can. He's not a believer in wholesale changes to a swing, noting that every batter on the Rangers is in the majors because he figured out his swing and how to hit in the minors. But everyone needs tweaking here and there when in a rut -- both physically and mentally -- and Coolbaugh sees that as a fun yet challenging part of the job.

He arrived nearly three weeks ago after Thad Bosley was relieved of his duties because of communication breakdowns with players. Bosley was a new face in the clubhouse and one the club didn't know. The bottom line: The players weren't comfortable with his style.

Coolbaugh is someone they've been around for years in spring training and during rehab stints.

I ask them how they feel first. I don't go in there and say, 'Hey, come here. Here's what you're doing wrong.' I'll sit there with them, ask them what they see.

-- Rangers hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh
"I think he had an advantage from the beginning just because we all know him," outfielder David Murphy said. "We all have some type of relationship with him -- at least the guys who have been with the Rangers a little while have. He's always been in spring training, and whether he's throwing batting practice to us or working in the cage with us, we all know him and we all like him. He had a great reputation coming in and he has just solidified that since he's been here. He's not a loud guy. He's quiet. He only speaks up here and there. But when he has something to say, it's something that is very helpful."

Coolbaugh knew he wasn't coming in to try to dramatically alter the club's offense. Bosley wasn't fired because the offense was struggling. When he left, the Rangers had the second-best team batting average in the American League and were fourth in runs scored. So Coolbaugh came in and watched for a few weeks to get a sense of what he felt the offense was doing in all kinds of situations, especially run-scoring opportunities.

"One of the things I'm very passionate about is that when you get a good pitch to hit, do that, but don't try to do too much," Coolbaugh said. "Let the guy behind you pick you if up the pitcher doesn't allow you to get the job done. Trust one another. It's just more of a team concept of making the pitcher work on a daily basis, win or lose. Let's make him earn every out."

Coolbaugh isn't telling hitters to take a bunch of pitches. But he wants them zeroed in on the area of the zone they'd like to try to exploit and then try to do that when the pitch gets in that area. If it's not there, foul pitches off and hang in until it is. And if it isn't there at all during an at-bat, take the walk and let the next hitter in the lineup give it a try.

During the club's last 10-game road trip, the Rangers were just 22-for-100 with runners in scoring position, a big reason they were just 3-7. They were better during the last homestand, hitting more like their season average. Texas is batting .259 with runners in scoring position, putting it in the middle of the pack in the AL.

The other thing the new hitting coach monitors closely is the two-out hits, especially those with runners in scoring position. The Rangers also are in the middle of the AL in that category. Coolbaugh is confident both numbers will get better.

"They know as long as we keep getting runners out there that they'll start scoring them on a more regular basis," Coolbaugh said.

He repeatedly notes what a strong lineup the Rangers have, and that he's there to remind them of how to approach those kinds of situations and to be a sounding board when they need him.

"Every day there's somebody new that's asking me a question, and I think that's a good sign," Coolbaugh said. "If it was the same kids I've worked with in the past, I'd worry guys are trying to open up. But I've had different guys ask me general questions, and it shows me they want to discuss things and improve on some areas. My job is to help them."

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.

Richard Durrett joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He writes about colleges, the Dallas Stars and the Texas Rangers. Richard spent nine years at The Dallas Morning News covering the Rangers, Stars, colleges, motorsports and high schools.

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