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Philadelphia Phillies hire Kevin Long as new hitting coach, reuniting him with star slugger Bryce Harper

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PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Phillies hired Kevin Long as their hitting coach on Wednesday, reuniting him with both manager Joe Girardi and star slugger Bryce Harper.

Long spent the past four seasons as the hitting coach for the Washington Nationals, where he worked with Harper, and was part of the staff in 2019 when they won the World Series.

Before joining Washington, the 54-year-old Long spent three seasons as hitting coach with the New York Mets and he served as hitting coach for eight seasons with the New York Yankees. He worked under Phillies manager Joe Girardi for seven years (2008-14) when they were with the Yankees and won the World Series in 2009.

“I have had a long-standing relationship with Kevin and have seen his work up close and in person for years,” Girardi said. “I truly believe he is the best in the business and will have a huge impact on our offense.”

Girardi and Long weren’t quite so cordial during a game at Citizens Bank Park in late June. After then-Nationals star Max Scherzer was checked by umpires for sticky substances, Girardi and Long got into a shouting match.

The Phillies fired hitting coach Joe Dillon on the final day of the regular season. Philadelphia finished second in the NL East at 82-80 and ranked seventh in the NL in runs and ninth in batting average.

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New York Yankees first-base coach Reggie Willits becomes fourth not to return to Aaron Boone’s staff

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NEW YORK — Yankees manager Aaron Boone lost a fourth member of his staff when New York announced Thursday that first-base coach and outfield instructor Reggie Willits will leave at the end of the year to become a volunteer assistant for Oklahoma’s college baseball program.

A native of Chickasha, Oklahoma, Willits played for Oklahoma in 2002-03 and coached Binger-Oney High School to Oklahoma state championships in 2013-14.

A former major leaguer, Willits had been with the Yankees for seven years, the first three as minor league outfield and baserunning coordinator and the last four as first-base coach and outfield instructor.

Following the Yankees’ loss to Boston in the AL Wild Card Game, the team fired third-base coach Phil Nevin, hitting coach Marcus Thames and assistant hitting coach P.J. Pilittere.

The Yankees announced Tuesday that Boone would return as manager on a new three-year deal with a club option for 2025.

Others on the staff are Matt Blake (pitching), Carlos Mendoza (bench), Mike Harkey (bullpen), Tanner Swanson (quality control and catching), Radley Haddad (bullpen catcher and coaching assistant) and Brett Weber (coaching assistant and replay coordinator).

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Eddie Rosario’s 4-hit, 2-homer night gives Atlanta Braves 3-1 lead over Los Angeles Dodgers in NLCS

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LOS ANGELES — There’s hot, there is sizzling and then there is the BravesEddie Rosario.

Rosario banged out four hits in a game for the second time in the National League Championship Series and tied a Braves postseason record with 12 total bases, leading Atlanta to a 9-2 win over the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday. With the victory, the Braves seized a commanding 3-1 series lead over Los Angeles and can clinch their first pennant since 1999 with a win at Dodger Stadium in Game 5 on Thursday.

“This whole postseason he’s been pretty much unbelievable,” said Braves leader Freddie Freeman, who homered, doubled, walked and got overshadowed by Rosario’s spree.

Rosario fell a double short of becoming the second player to hit for the cycle in a postseason game, but only because his bat is almost too hot. With a homer, triple and single already in the books, Rosario cleared the fence with a drive to right in the ninth inning for his second homer of the game, a three-run shot that capped a four-run Atlanta rally that broke open the game.

“It’s postseason, no matter what, the cycle, I want to try to help the team to win,” Rosario said. “Three RBI is better than hitting a double.”

On Sept. 19, Rosario hit for the cycle against the San Francisco Giants, needing just five pitches to do so. That kicked off a hot streak that has continued right on into the highest-stakes games of his career. Beginning with that game, Rosario has hit .354 with five homers over a 22-game span. And when his bat is referred to as being hot, it’s just that — one particular hot bat. Rosario said he has been using the same stick with which he hit for the cycle.

“I’ve been using that bat that I hit for the cycle with and it has not disappointed,” Rosario said. “I had that double remaining, and I’m like, man, this bat has not let me down yet.”

During the NLCS, Rosario has hit .588 with a pair of four-hit games. He’s the first player to have a pair of four-hit games in the same LCS. Only Hall of Famer Robin Yount, who did it in the 1982 World Series, has done it in any postseason series.

Not bad for a player who was non-tendered by the Minnesota Twins last fall, didn’t latch on to a new team until February, struggled during a half-season with the Cleveland Indians and then was dealt away at the trade deadline.

“I came here and I wanted to show my name, showcase my talents and prove to the people the kind of ballplayer that I am,” Rosario said. “I feel like I had success in Minnesota and I struggled a little bit in Cleveland, so when I came over here I definitely wanted to make sure that I showcased my talents appropriately.”

As postgame questioners were all too willing to remind the Braves after Wednesday’s game, Atlanta also held a 3-1 lead over the Dodgers in the NLCS last season, only to drop three straight to L.A. and finish one game short of snapping the franchise’s pennant drought. But with every question asked in that vein, the Braves have had a pretty simple response: This is a different team and a different year.

“[It is] 2021,” Freeman said. “2020 was last year. This is a whole different team, a whole different thing. So if anybody’s thinking about 2020, I think everybody wants to be in a 3-1 lead, so we’ll take it.”

The different team part has been on full display against the Dodgers. Rosario and two other in-season outfield acquisitions — Joc Pederson and Adam Duvall — have led the Braves’ offense this series. The trio has combined to hit .404 with four homers and 14 RBIs against L.A. Everyone else has hit .225 with two homers and seven RBIs.

Atlanta still has to take that final step, but things could hardly line up better for the Braves than on Thursday. That’s because baseball’s hottest hurler, Max Fried, will take the mound, while the Dodgers will go with a bullpen game to save their season. Fried, who hails from southern California and grew up a Dodgers fan, has a shot to close the door on his boyhood club.

“What he’s done in the second half and pretty much over the whole course of the season, after the first couple weeks, every time you see No. 54 on that mound you got a real good feeling,” Freeman said.

If Freeman’s feelings are prescient, the Braves will be headed back to the World Series for the first time this century.

“I was very young when they went, the last time they went,” Freeman said. “So we got a good team and we’re playing really good baseball and hopefully we can take this thing home and get to the World Series.”

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Los Angeles Dodgers All-Star Justin Turner likely out for rest of postseason with hamstring injury

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LOS ANGELES — His hamstring injured and his season likely over, Justin Turner got to within 25 feet of first base and tried to stop. He throttled back, hobbling at first before slowing enough to turn the hobble to a limp. Slowly, painfully, he worked his way back to the Dodgers‘ dugout, wincing with every step, before Albert Pujols helped him down the stairs and through the tunnel that leads to to the clubhouse.

So now, one loss away from an inglorious end to a remarkable season, the Dodgers are faced with overcoming a 3-1 deficit in the NL Championship Series without their All-Star third baseman, who sustained a hamstring injury while hitting into a double-play in the seventh inning of the 9-2 loss against the Atlanta Braves in Game 4 on Wednesday night.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts revealed in his postgame interview that the early indication is that Turner has a Grade 2 strain, which is defined as a partial tear of one or more hamstring muscles.

“So, I think that’ll be it for him,” Roberts said. The normal recovery period for a partial tear is four to eight weeks.

Turner’s injury is just one more addition to the Dodgers’ list of unavailable star players. Clayton Kershaw has been out since the beginning of October with a forearm/elbow injury, and first baseman Max Muncy was lost for at least through the NLCS with an elbow injury he suffered on the final day of the regular season.

Turner is one of several Dodgers’ regulars who have struggled offensively during the postseason. He had just one hit in 20 at bats in the five games against the Giants in the NLDS, and he jokingly asked for the ball after that one hit, a single. In four games against the Braves, Turner has two hits, a walk and a hit by pitch in 12 plate appearances.

Roberts, who was in no mood to expound on much of anything after his team’s loss on Wednesday, said he spoke to Turner and described his mood as, “obviously, very disappointed.” Asked how Turner’s absence might impact his team’s psyche, Roberts said, “Honestly, what I’m thinking about, and what I expect our guys to think about, is only tomorrow.”

The Dodgers didn’t make Turner available to reporters after the game.

The injury occurred with the Dodgers trailing 5-2 and Walker Buehler, pinch-running after Pujols led off the inning with a pinch-hit single, at first base. Turner hit a ground ball to short, and Dansby Swanson — seeing Turner pull up — took the ball to second on his own and threw to first for the double play.

“I feel bad for Justin,” Dodgers outfielder AJ Pollock said. “JT — he’s a warrior. You could see him walking off the field. It’s a hamstring. I’ll let him talk to you about that, but you never want to see your teammate go down.”

The Dodgers will be able to replace Turner on the roster for Game 5. Roberts said the choice will be an infielder, and he listed Zach McKinstry, Billy McKinney and Andy Burns as options.

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