PHILADELPHIA — Even after 20 years as a manager in professional baseball, Charlie Manuel faces challenges beyond the Xs and Os.
The handling of Hunter Pence is his latest.
"He's different from any hitter I've ever had," the Phillies manager said.
Since Pence was traded to Philadelphia last July, Manuel has learned the best way to approach Pence is to be as positive as possible and let him work out of ruts on his own.
"We don't want to get him out of sync with his thinking," Manuel said. "I said one thing about him and it kind of like messed him up."
Too much thinking often leads to too much pressing, something Manuel has seen recently from Pence.
It's led to a homestand during which Pence is hitting .105 (2-for-19) on the homestand in six games.
Pence, too, has noticed he's trying too hard, and he doesn't want the mental part of the game to interfere with his swing and approach once he steps in the box.
He's an aggressive hitter. He always has been. He doesn't envision changing his approach. But he has to make sure he's going about things the right way.
"If I go up there and say, 'OK, don't swing at a bad pitch,' well I'm not going to be ready to hit when I get a good pitch," he said. "Different pitchers have different deceptions. It looks like a strike and it jumps. What you see on TV is not what we're facing in the batter's box."
Pence said he's been taking way too many swings in the cage lately, especially before Friday's game when he spent hours there and then was 0-for-3 and left four runners on base.
When he got home after the Phillies' 7-3 win over the Padres, he did some thinking. He remembered the time when he was with the Houston Astros and Jeff Bagwell literally dragged him out of the cage. So he figured he'd give that theory a try and told himself that when he got to the park Saturday, he would limit the number of swings he would take in the cage before or after batting practice.
In an effort to explain how overdoing it can affect your success on the field, Pence compared it to dating.
"If you have a girl that you really like and you just want to do everything you can for her, you smother them," he said. "That ends up repelling them. It's like I'm smothering hitting right now. Sometimes you've got to let that girl go, relax.
"Coming in [Saturday], I want to be relaxed, a little more loose, let my body have more energy, to have my fresh energy for the game. My idea is to start hitting the ball as hard as I can to right field all of BP. I have a game plan."
The right-handed Pence has had issues with left-handed pitchers this season. He is hitting .179 (5-for-28) against them.
Also, his on-base percentage is just .297, which is well below his career on-base percentage of .341, and lower than teammates Laynce Nix (.392), Pete Orr (.314), Juan Pierre (.392), Placido Polanco (.314), Carlos Ruiz (.381) and Ty Wigginton (.358).
Pence leads the team in strikeouts (27)and is hitting only. 256 this season. For his career, he's a .291 hitter.
Some of his issues are a by-product of his free-swinging approach; some can be explained away by putting pressure on himself as the team's four-hole hitter in the absence of Ryan Howard; and the rest of it can be blamed on the way he's seeing the ball right now.
"The way he approaches hitting and stuff, he will always swing at balls out of the strike zone," Manuel said. "What we do about it, I don't know. You wouldn't call him a disciplined hitter. You would call him an unorthodox hitter. He's a guy who sees it, and if he thinks he can hit it, he swings at it. To me, right now, I think you have to kind of accept that and hope he gets good balls to hit.