Manuel: Phils need to focus, prepare

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies manager Charlie Manuel dismissed hitting coach Milt Thompson on Friday and replaced him with Greg Gross, hoping to jump start an offense that's been struggling for nearly two months.

Gross has been with Triple-A Lehigh Valley for the past three seasons, and Double-A Reading before that. He was the hitting coach for former Phillies manager Larry Bowa from 2002-04 and played for World Series teams with Philadelphia in 1980 and 1983.

"I looked at our hitting and thought something had to be done," said Manuel, a former hitting coach with the Cleveland Indians. "If you would have told me we would have hit this way, I would have argued with you forever."

Thompson had been Philadelphia's hitting coach since 2005, when the team finished second in the National League in runs. The offense has been a big reason that the Phillies have been such a success the past few seasons, leading the league in runs in 2006, '07 and last season.

"Milt didn't swing a bat for us, didn't chase those balls in the dirt or take fastballs down the middle. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever made," Manuel said. "He's a good friend of mine, but at the same time, I felt we had to try something."

Injuries to Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz have hurt the team's consistency this season. Philadelphia ranks just 12th in the NL in batting (.254) and on-base percentage (.322) and sixth in runs, and have been held to one or less 23 times in 95 games.

"You don't expect anybody to be out," Polanco said before Friday night's game against the Colorado Rockies. "We've been around long enough to know what we're supposed to be doing."

The Phillies entered Friday trailing Atlanta by seven games in the NL East, after leading by five games on May 17. Philadelphia has a reputation for charging back in September, as they did against the Mets in 2007 and '08, and Manuel reminded his players of that Friday.

"When we see how our at-bats are, I think we need more focus, more preparation," Manuel said. "We need to go back and play baseball the Philly way. We had it and it's gotten away from us. It doesn't mean that changing the hitting coach will bring that part back, but I felt like we need a new person. Something like that might make a difference.

"I talked about out team. We have 67 games to play," Manuel said. "I've seen us make up seven games in 17 games and win our division [in 2007]. All we have to do is get back to playing baseball like we can, or the way that we've played before."