Long leaving Nationals to become Phillies hitting coach

The Nationals have another opening on their coaching staff to fill after learning hitting coach Kevin Long is leaving to take a position with the Phillies.

Long, the club’s hitting coach since 2018, was invited to return in 2022 but was free to seek other employment because his contract was expiring. He chose to join Joe Girardi’s staff in Philadelphia, where he’ll be reunited with slugger Bryce Harper, a source familiar with the decision confirmed.

Long’s departure, which was first reported by The Athletic, leaves Davey Martinez with at least three openings to fill on his staff for next season. The Nationals recently informed third base coach Bob Henley and first base coach Randy Knorr they would not be returning to the big league staff in 2022, though both longtime members of the organization have been offered other positions in player development.

It’s still possible more changes could be coming to Martinez’s staff. Bench coach Tim Bogar, pitching coach Jim Hickey, bullpen coach Henry Blanco and assistant hitting coach Pat Roessler all were invited back for 2022, though any could opt to seek employment elsewhere. From that group, Roessler would be most likely to leave, perhaps following Long to Philadelphia, given their longstanding working relationship.

Long is regarded around baseball as one of the sport’s best hitting coaches, having been employed by two World Series champions (2009 Yankees, 2019 Nationals) and another pennant winner (2015 Mets). The 54-year-old actually interviewed for the Nats’ managerial opening prior to the 2018 season, and though they selected Martinez for the job they did offer him a three-year contract to become their hitting coach.

When that contract expired last fall, Long sought another multi-year deal. The Nationals told him he was free to see if another club would offer him one, but when none did he returned to D.C. on a one-year deal.

Thumbnail image for Soto-Connects-Blue-Sidebar.jpgDespite the massive roster overhaul this season, the Nats wound up with one of the most productive lineups in the league. They led the National League in batting average and on-base percentage while striking out fewer times than any other club. They did often struggle to elevate the ball - Long was a pioneer in promoting the “launch angle” theory that has revolutionized the sport - and led the majors in double plays grounded into, but overall team officials were pleased with the offense as a whole.

Juan Soto, in particular, was a big fan of Long and invited the coach to pitch to him during this summer’s Home Run Derby in Colorado. One week ago, the two attended the NL wild card game together in Los Angeles, sitting in the front row alongside agent Scott Boras while wearing Trea Turner and Max Scherzer Nationals jerseys and rooting for their former teammates.

Asked specifically about Long’s job status on the final day of the season, general manager Mike Rizzo deferred such questions to Martinez but then spoke glowingly about his hitting coach.

“I love what K-Long does,” Rizzo said Oct. 3. “We brought him in here to do just that, and he’s terrific at his job.”

Long’s contract terms with the Phillies aren’t yet clear, but the Nationals generally have been reluctant to offer multiple guaranteed years to coaches, with a handful of exceptions. (Long’s first contract was for three years, and former pitching coach Mike Maddux was given a two-year deal in 2016.)

In Philadelphia, he’ll be reunited with Girardi, who previously employed him on the Yankees’ staff. This job opened up after Joe Dillon was fired following the Phillies’ disappointing season. Dillon had been Long’s assistant hitting coach in D.C. in 2018-19 and would seem to be a candidate to now return to the Nationals in some capacity.

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