Henderson believes he can provide relaxation

Charlie Manuel has bemoaned the Phillies hitting for the past four seasons. (Al Behrman/AP file photo)

Charlie Manuel bemoaned his hitters' tendency to press in tense situations more than once during a bitter 2012 season. The message will not change when the Phillies employ their third different hitting coach in four seasons, but Steve Henderson believes he is the man to deliver it.

"I feel like I can bring a little more relaxation to the players," Henderson said in a phone interview Tuesday. "Most of them know me. I'm the type of guy who likes to be aggressive at the plate but also selective. I understand about on-base percentage and all of that. I really do understand that. But at the same time, we have to be able to attack the fastball."

Henderson, who spent the previous two seasons as the Phillies' minor-league roving hitting coordinator, said he paid close attention to the majors. He, like much of the team's front office, cited injuries as a primary factor toward achieving mediocrity in an 81-81 record.

The Phillies scored 4.22 runs per game, exactly the National League average, in 2012. The team's run production barely differed from first half to second.

"I still think there is a lot of potential there," Henderson said.

Manuel used the same hitting coach -- Milt Thompson -- during his first six years as Phillies manager. Thompson was replaced midseason in 2010 by Greg Gross, who was dismissed following the final game in 2012.

Henderson, 59, has spent six prior seasons as a major-league hitting coach. His first job was with Houston in 1995. He said the value of working with experienced hitters like Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Derek Bell is applicable with a veteran team like these Phillies. In Tampa Bay, from 2006 to 2009, Henderson worked with a much younger team.

He played for 12 years and was a career .280 hitter. Twice he finished in the National League's top 10 in on-base percentage.

The Phillies like the gregarious Henderson's personality.

He was also warm to the idea of hiring an assistant hitting coach in Wally Joyner. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. broached the subject during Henderson's interview. He liked it and even attended Joyner's subsequent interview.

The workload of a modern hitting coach, Henderson said, is too much for one man.

"I've done this job for a while in the major leagues and I think it's a great idea," Henderson said. "I think it's going to work. With Wally's knowledge and stuff that I know, we have several people who can help. I don't see a problem with it."

Henderson envisions a flexible system between Joyner and him.

"We'll try to share the duties," Henderson said. "I'll ask him to do quite a bit of video work. But his input will be important. I'm going to ask him things. I'm going to bounce things off of him. And vice versa. It depends on what Charlie wants."

"He'll do film. We'll have conversations with each player. We will work this out quite good together."

Henderson said his primary task in spring training will be to learn the idiosyncrasies of each player. "I would have to get to know them personally and real close," he said, "before I make any kind of adjustments." Two players he does have extensive knowledge of from the minors, Domonic Brown and Darin Ruf, figure to be of importance come February.

"Ruf made a lot of adjustments," Henderson said. "I remember when I first got here; he wasn't real aggressive at the plate. We talked to him about that. He started attacking the ball.

"For Brown, it's just a matter of him -- I wouldn't say confidence -- but a matter of him getting back into a groove with his knee injury and things like that. I think this guy still has a chance to be a real good hitter. I mean, with power and hit for average."

Have a question? Send it to Matt Gelb's Mailbag.