Jeff Manto a hot topic as Sox hitters struggle
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN email@example.com June 20, 2013 8:38PM
Updated: June 20, 2013 10:40PM
MINNEAPOLIS — When you’re scoring a full run fewer per game than a year ago, rank last in the American League in runs scored and own a .292 team on-base percentage that would rank third-worst in franchise history — just to name a few dreadful offensive statistics — the hitting coach’s feet will be held to the fire at some point.
Jeff Manto is the same coach who oversaw a team that was fourth in the AL in runs last season, his first with the Sox. As one might expect, he received the backing of manager Robin Ventura when the subject came up Thursday. Ventura even jumped in the line of fire for his coach.
“When it goes like this, you look at me, too,’’ Ventura said. “It’s part of the game. I see what Jeff’s doing. I’m behind him because I know how hard he works, what he’s put into it and what he’s teaching. The things he talks about, he and [assistant hitting coach] Harold [Baines]. I’m definitely in his corner.”
When losses mount — the Sox fell to 29-41 with an 8-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins on Thursday — people begin to look for fall guys.
But Sox coaches and players haven’t pointed fingers, and staying consistent with his desire not to single out individuals publicly, first-year general manager Rick Hahn took the same road. He declined to discuss Manto’s performance when asked, other than to reference what he said Tuesday: “The staff is working very hard to try to get things turned around quickly.’’
Manto wouldn’t be the first hitting coach to lose his job when a team falls short of expectations, but such a move seems unlikely. That said, Hahn has no history as the man in charge to tip off what he’s thinking. He passed on an opportunity to give Manto a vote of confidence, so draw your own conclusions.
‘‘He’s [Manto] here to help us out, but at the end of the day it’s our job to perform, so I don’t think it’s his fault,’’ said Alex Rios, who recovered from a bad year in 2011 to have a good one in 2012, when Manto was promoted after four years as the Sox’ minor-league hitting coordinator. “He’s been great. He understands me, I understand him, so it’s been good so far.’’
One of Manto’s biggest projects is talented, powerful Dayan Viciedo, who has been a disappointment in his second full season. Viciedo, who’s hitting .230, has taken to Manto’s urging of late that he use the entire field. He has six hits in his last 20 at-bats, and Thursday he pulled the ball once and didn’t strike out.
“He’s well-respected,’’ Viciedo said of Manto through a translator. “We’re going through a bad stretch as a team, so it’s unfortunate.
“The key for me is communication, and by that I mean both ways — me with the coach and him with me, hearing what I have to say.’’
It’s paramount that Viciedo and all of the Sox’ hitters are getting the same message from both hitting coaches and Ventura, who made a good living as a major-league hitter.
“We’re consistent with what we’re doing and what we like to see,’’ Ventura said. “At some point, it’s frustrating for [players], too, that results aren’t there. The players are just as frustrated as anybody else.’’