Powell takes over as Mariners hitting coach

Powell takes over as Mariners hitting coach

SEATTLE -- The day started like any other for Alonzo Powell, but one phone call changed everything.

At the other end of the line Sunday morning was Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik.

"He was in the locker room getting ready to get dressed and go on the field in [Triple-A] Tacoma," the GM said. "I gave him a real simple message. I said, 'We've relieved Alan [Cockrell] of his hitting coach duties and would you be interested in being our Major League hitting coach?' He said, 'Yes, I would.' I said, 'OK, can you be here as quick as possible? As of today, you'll be our Major League hitting guy.'

"He was fine and said, 'I'll get dressed and be there as soon as I can.'"

Less than an hour before the first pitch of the Mariners' series finale against the Angels, Powell stood in the first-base dugout conducting a quickie press conference.

"Obviously, it was a surprise," he said. "It's an honor to be here. I'm happy to be here. Hopefully, I can help guys get going in the right direction." 

Powell has his work cut out.

He takes over a group of hitters that are batting a collective 400-plus points lower than their career batting averages, a group that ranks last in the American League in batting average, hits, runs, home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage and on-base percentage.

What can Powell do that Cockrell couldn't?

"Sometimes, just the same message from a different messenger carries some weight," Zduriencik said, "but it's certainly apparent that we're not doing what we should be doing offensively.

"Maybe there's a little key here the new guy can unlock. Maybe there's something here that [Powell] can relay a message or however that comes across. Certainly it will be his expertise and experience that we're looking for to help us do better than we're doing right now.

"He's familiar with a lot of these guys and it should be an easy transition."

On his way out of the clubhouse on Sunday, Cockrell was asked what it would take to get the hitters back on track.

"If they can breathe, relax and just play the game like they did last year, when there was no expectation of winning, then they can come out of this," he said.

The task of getting the hitters to relax and perform to their capabilities now belongs to Powell, a 45-year-old who is in his 27th year of professional baseball. Signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Giants in 1983, he played in the Majors for the Expos (1987) and Mariners ('91).

Powell also played for the Chunichi Dragons (1992-97), becoming the first American player to win three consecutive batting titles, in 1994, '95 and '96.

His goal was to become a big league hitting coach, but not this way.

"You never want see someone get fired during the year," he said. "I've known Alan a long time. We came up in the Giants' organization together. We played together in the Seattle organization. He's a good friend. But this is baseball and things like this happen, unfortunately. But I'm here and, hopefully, I can do a good job."

On Sunday, he mostly watched. The hard work begins on Tuesday, when the Mariners begin a three-city road trip in Baltimore.

"[Manager Don Wakamatsu] told me the guys are scuffling a little bit and do what I can to help get them on track. If there was [an overnight fix], that would have been done a long time ago. Baseball is a long, grind-out process. We still have plenty of time to get things going."

"He's done a lot in this organization from being a Minor League coordinator to Triple-A hitting coach to someone who, you look at this lineup today and several of these guys he's had and worked with first hand, so there is a comfort level," Wakamatsu said. "I think it's important you look within your organization first to fill that spot."

Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, the only hitter batting higher than his career average, has worked with Powell the past two Spring Trainings.

"He is along the same lines as [Cockrell], always available to help you," Gutierrez said. "He's a good guy and likes to work hard. Let's see what's going to happen now."

A lot of people are wondering the same thing.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.