Rays manager Joe Maddon came to the defense of hitting coach Derek Shelton before tonight's game with the Indians at Progressive Field, calling the grumbling in the Tampa area that Shelton should be fired way off base.
"It's not far for him to be criticized at all," Maddon said. "In today's world it's so funny how sometimes people immediately want to have somebody's head when things aren't going well. I'm always humored by that, I actually am. Internally, I can see how hard he works, how the players respond to him. We're not up to 100 percent strength right now, so things are a little bit skewed and despite of that we're still in pretty good shape regarding a potential playoff spot at the end of the year.
"The offense I can't even say has underperformed at this point based on the fact that so many people have been injured. I appreciate the work that he does. He's really diligent. He works really hard with the guys, and he's very dedicated to his profession. So for those that want to go in that direction, please, (we) have one of the hardest working hitting coaches in all of Major League Baseball working here right now. He's dedicated to his craft, and at the end of the day don't always point fingers, because when you do there are three others pointing back at you. That comes from Sister Susan."
The Rays begin play tonight tied for 12th in the American League in batting with a .231 average. They are 10th in runs and 11th in on-base percentage.
They have produced four runs or less in 10 of their last 11 games, a stretch in which they produced a .209 team batting average and a .259 on-base percentage. They have struck out 92 times and drawn only 21 walks during the current slide.
Maddon pointed to the injuries, most notably the injury to Evan Longoria's left hamstring. He will miss his 59th game tonight.
Longoria's absence has created a domino effect that has produced more playing time for Elliot Johnson and Will Rhymes – two players whom the Rays were looking to be nothing more than bench players.
Still, others are less-than-stellar seasons.
The Rays have four players on the active roster batting less than .200 – Carlos Peña (.197), Hideki Matsui (.175), Jose Molina (.195) and Luke Scott (.194).
Teams with good hitters tend to have good hitting coaches, though Maddon said teams with good hitters tend to make their hitting coach look good. The opposite is in effect for Shelton, who joined the Rays in 2010.
"When you're working with a team that has a lot of injuries right now and a lot of guys are probably getting more at-bats than they should, then sometimes that's going to be reflected on him not doing that good of a job, and I totally disagree with that," Maddon said.
He also said the impact of a hitting coach at the major league level is not as big as fans think.
"The impact, a lot of it is maintenance," Maddon said. "A lot of it is being able to really watch something so when it does go off track you can put it back on track. Normally, it's not to take somebody on the major league level and make a .250 hitter a .300 hitter. Therein lies the misconception.
"Most of the time when a guy comes from the minor leagues he's pretty much who he's going to be regarding what he can do. A lot of it is based on the skills regarding pitch selection and consistent hard contact. Of course there are occasions where someone hits it off and you might get an extremely big bump somewhere but those are rare."