Meulens full speed ahead as Giants’ hitting coach
SAN FRANCISCO – Hensley Meulens bounced from San Francisco to Venezuela to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, then back to Arizona and the Bay Area.
He traveled nonstop this winter in an effort to make strides with San Francisco’s hitters before spring training begins. Meulens hasn’t wasted a moment since the Giants hired him as their new hitting coach in November.
He knows he can’t afford to rest if he is going to turn around the club’s offensive woes and make the Giants a playoff contender again at last.
“Bam Bam” means business.
“It was very important for me to do that to get familiarized with everybody,” Meulens said during the team’s FanFest last weekend. “It’s been a grind of an offseason.”
No kidding. Talk about full speed ahead.
Meulens insists he had to get started right away. He flew to where his players were so he could introduce himself, make his pitch and explain his philosophy and approach. Meeting up with them in their homeland or at winter ball showed Meulens’ pupils his commitment.
“It means everything,” right fielder Nate Schierholtz said. “It shows he cares and he’s here for nothing more than to prepare us to go as far as we can go this year. He’s definitely going over the top. He flies everywhere and he’s just all over the place.”
The Giants are determined to score more runs for a talented pitching staff led by two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. So, they turned their hitting fortunes over to a guy nicknamed “Bam Bam” for his once-fierce swing.
So far, his work ethic appears to be just as fierce. Meulens’ message is one of patience and being selective, not always an easy thing for some of the free-swingers in this lineup: like slugger Pablo Sandoval and Bengie Molina.
Meulens realizes he can’t change a hitter who knows nothing else but to be aggressive.
“They’re going to be what they are. That’s why they’re so good at what they do,” Meulens said. “I can’t change Bengie Molina. He walked 13 times last year. I can’t ask him to walk 60 times this year because it won’t happen. It’s hard to change Pablo Sandoval. He’s a very, very aggressive guy. …
“The thing I’m going to try to see if we can do better is be a little bit more selective on your pitch to hit before you have two strikes. That to me is going to get guys in better counts and get guys on base more. When you have more baserunners, it’s going to translate into more runs. That’s what we’re looking for.”
Meulens has regularly been logging 12-hour days, according to his players. His players marvel at his energy and enthusiasm to make them better hitters – and in a hurry. There’s plenty of belief that if this club can be more productive offensively it will be in the hunt for the playoffs again this fall. San Francisco has missed the playoffs the past six seasons but was in the NL wild-card chase well into September last year.
“He’s been great with everything we’ve thrown at him this winter. With all the miles he’s put on, he’s had a full plate,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “The groundwork and foundation of what he wants to do is done in the winter.”
With a rotation boasting Lincecum, All-Star Matt Cain, 2002 AL Cy Young winner Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez – he threw a no-hitter last July 10 – the Giants don’t worry much about their pitching staff.
Bochy believes that with Meulens in charge, San Francisco will eventually transform into a more consistent offense.
The Giants finished 88-74 last season, four games behind wild-card winner Colorado – and with 16 more victories than in 2008. But the team had the second-fewest home runs (122) in the majors and drew the fewest walks (392) in ’09. They were 13th in the National League in runs.
“With the couple pieces that we added, it’s got to be a playoff-contending team,” Meulens said. “I don’t have all the answers. I’m going to ask for ideas from all these guys who have been all over the place. We’re going to do it together. Everybody knows what my philosophy is and what I expect from them. I’m ready to go.”
Meulens has drawn inspiration from former New York Yankees teammates Don Mattingly – now hitting coach for the rival Dodgers – and Roberto Kelly, the Giants’ first base coach.
He said he’s learned little things from many different people along the way that he brings to the job.
Meulens, who spent the latter part of the 2009 season with the Giants once Triple-A Fresno’s season was done, is credited with helping John Bowker win the Pacific Coast League batting title last year with a .342 average and Jesus Guzman finish fifth at .321.
Meulens also provided guidance to Eugenio Velez, who turned around his season after a slow start.
Meulens should have no trouble explaining himself, either. He speaks five languages – Papamiento, the language of his native island country of Curacao in the Caribbean, Dutch, English, Spanish and Japanese.
“There won’t be any communication problems,” Bochy said.
The 42-year-old Meulens spent parts of seven season in the big leagues as an infielder and outfielder for the Yankees, Montreal and Arizona, retiring after the 1998 season. He’s a career .220 hitter with 15 home runs and 53 RBIs.
He was the Triple-A hitting instructor for the Indianapolis Indians in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization from 2005-08.
When he was about 15, Meulens was on a softball team with older players and decided to hit left-handed because “I didn’t want to mess up my right-handed swing,” he said. He was a natural from the left side and everybody said he was as strong as cartoon character “Bam Bam” of the Flintstones.
Go ahead and razz him about it, but not when standing in the batter’s box swinging away.
“I’m very serious about my work,” Meulens said. “I like to have fun and joke around but when we’re talking about work, we’re serious. I’m deliberate, ‘This is how we’re going to do it.”‘
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