Terry Pendleton was hurt when he heard Jeff Francoeur had gone to Texas to work with Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. He told Francoeur as much.
Said Pendleton: “Honestly? My pride gets in the way. I asked Jeff, ‘Why didn’t you come to me?’ Obviously he felt the need to go elsewhere. It’s his winter. [But] it bugged me at first. Not hearing it from him, that got me more than anything. I told him, ‘I thought our relationship was better than that.’ ”
Pendleton has been the Braves’ hitting coach since 2002, and he’s held in high esteem within the organization. But it did seem odd that the conspicuously flailing Francoeur would consult an instructor on another team’s payroll, and some have taken his Texas sojourn as a vote of no confidence in Pendleton.
And with the 2009 Braves starving for offense and the prized prospect Jordan Schafer being demoted after striking out 63 times in 50 games, the cry has gone up on AJC.com blogs: Pendleton must go! (Never mind that the Braves have hit above the National League in each of their seven full seasons under T.P.)
If Bobby Cox has anything to do with it, Pendleton is going nowhere. “Terry is good,” Cox said, emphasizing the adjective. “He’s an endless worker. He works harder than any hitting coach I’ve ever seen.” And Cox has worked alongside some fine ones: Cito Gaston, Clarence Jones, Don Baylor, Merv Rettenmund.
Said Pendleton, told of Cox’s wholehearted endorsement: “I appreciate that. It’s worth a lot.”
Does a hitting coach actually matter? “If I answer that, I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t,” Pendleton said. “I always think there are things I can do better, and I’m always asking the players questions: ‘What do I need to do better?’ Physically, I think I can help a guy prepare. Mentally, you can do a lot of talking, but sometimes that individual has to step up.”
Still, a hitting coach feels it when a pupil fails. Pendleton again: “Chipper [Jones] and I were talking the other night, and I was saying I felt like I let [Schafer] down. You try to do everything you can for these young guys – sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.”
It isn’t as if Pendleton doesn’t know how failure feels. He hit .324 as a Cardinal rookie in 1984. But, he said, “I didn’t know how to make adjustments – henceforth .240 and .230 [the next two seasons].”
And how was the same guy able to win the batting title and be named MVP in 1991 as a Brave? “I adjusted.”
Asked if he feels Pendleton is a good hitting coach, Francoeur said: “Absolutely.” So why head for Texas? “Sometimes you’ve got to work something out. Even with Rudy, the final week I was there I was changing something else. Guys do that all the time. Chipper goes to his dad. Mac [Brian McCann] goes to his dad.”
Has his work with Jaramillo damaged his relationship with Pendleton? Francoeur: “We’ve talked about it. We’re working together now. I really can’t say much. It is what it is.”
Pendleton is a pro’s pro. He’ll always work hard to do the job he’s paid to do. “Guys have struggled before,” he said, “and I tried to assist them in getting it right.”
But this is the same Pendleton who walked off the field in Cincinnati in 1993 because he didn’t think Braves pitchers were protecting their hitters. The man does have a code.
And he also has a point: Sometimes a hitter has to step in and step up. A hitting coach can’t take every at-bat for his team. Goodness knows these Braves would be better served if theirs did.