NEW YORK — Chad Mottola's stint as the Rays' new hitting coach got off to an exciting start Thursday, as Kevin Kiermaier and Steven Souza Jr. welcomed him with two homers each in a 5-4 loss to the Yankees.
Mottola had been hard at work since early afternoon, heading into the cage with some of the occasionally wayward batsmen he inherited from fired Derek Shelton, talking with many of the others.
Mottola didn't profess to having any new radical ideas or any all-encompassing "magic pill" philosophy. He sounded pretty much as billed: a guy who is a hard worker, a good listener and strong communicator and understanding of the need to mold an individual approach with each of his hitters.
"That's what my strength is," Mottola said. "Dealing with the different personalities, trying to get them to perform."
The benefit of bringing Mottola in now was to give him the final 3½ weeks of this season to be more ready for next, and he plans to spend a lot of time watching and listening.
He will "dive right in" with some of the players he knows from his three years in the Rays' minor-league system, plus Brad Miller and Nick Franklin, who he worked with during the winter near their Orlando homes. He will "sit back and wait" with some of the others, especially the veterans, wanting to learn their routines. In other words, though he has "ideas" he's probably not going to be telling Evan Longoria to change anything anytime soon.
"The three weeks, I think it helps (all) of us," Mottola, 44, said. "I don't want to be selfish saying it only helps me. I think it's going to help them being comfortable, gaining trust, so there is a plan in the off-season so when I'm coming in in the beginning of next year there is trust immediately."
Mottola prides himself on communication and tailoring his work to the individual player, a lesson he learned playing for eight different organizations during his 16-year career, including briefly with four different big-league teams.
"At the time it wasn't too much fun, but it's really helped me at this time to realize it's got to be put in their words, use their language," he said. "And that's what's going to be these last couple week, learning what makes sense to them."
His coaching philosophy was shaped a lot by Dwayne Murphy, who was his coach when he played in the Toronto system, and who assisted him during his one previous season as a big-league hitting coach in 2013 with the Jays. Also from the veteran Toronto hitters, an eclectic stable that still includes Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, both of whom failed early before becoming stars.
Seattle's Adam Lind, who had Mottola as a minor- and major-league coach in Toronto, raved about his knowledge, experience and manner. "He's relatable," Lind said. "You can tell him what you think. You don't have to hold anything back."
Mottola's leadership skills surfaced early, when he was a 30-year-old playing back at Triple A in 2002 and helped an admittedly "little bit overwhelmed" just-promoted catcher named Kevin Cash, and developed an ongoing relationship with the Rays manager.
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Mottola isn't a big video guy, saying it can be helpful but also hurtful as "it also clouds a guy's mind." He is savvy enough working in this organization to say that analytical data and advanced stats can be a big help. "I love the fact that we think outside the box," he said. "That's kind of why I signed here. I embrace it."
He has, of course, plenty to do. And we would be remiss not to offer some suggested priorities:
• Souza. Thursday's two bombs obviously made for a good introduction, but he is arguably the biggest concern the Rays have, whether he will be the impact player they gave up so much for (in essence both Wil Myers, who is starring in San Diego, and Trea Turner, who looks like a future star for Washington) or the guy who strikes out more often than any other player (150 Ks in 420 plate appearance going into Thursday) and doesn't homers consistently (three in 207 at-bats before Thursday).
• Corey Dickerson. He has hit enough, 18 homers and 29 doubles, to dispel concern that his power was a Coors Field creation, but he has not hit enough overall with too much of an all-or-nothing approach and reduced a No. 8 hitter rather than the middle of- the order bat they gave up a lot for.
• Kiermaier. The two homers he hit, and three in two days, are clear signs of the power he has, and not necessarily a good thing. That's because the bigger goal is to complete the thus-far impressive transformation to a No. 2-style hitter, hitting balls to the left side, dropping bunts and taking walks to take more advantage of his game-changing speed.
Catchers Curt Casali and/or Luke Maile are on the list, too, as Mottola obviously has plenty to do. One hitter as a time.