Phil Plantier is a hitting coach? Really?

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In case you missed it, the Padres announced over the weekend that they had hired Phil Plantier as their new hitting coach, replacing Randy Ready. It was a pretty meteoric rise for a guy who was coaching at Point Loma Nazarene University three years ago. Plantier was the Mariners’ minor league hitting coordinator in 2010 and the hitting coach for high-A Lake Elsinore in the Padres’ chain to start the 2011 season.

But while that’s interesting enough, the more notable fact is that the Padres are hiring Phil Plantier as their hitting coach. This is a guy who competed with catchers to see who could squat lower when he was at the plate. It’s like he was sitting on an imaginary chair two feet off the ground.

Plantier was my favorite player in the early-90s. When he burst onto the scene with the Red Sox in 1991, the New Hampshire native created a minor sensation in New England. Living in Maine at the time, I met him and got his autograph at a card show. I had a Plantier t-shirt that I adored.

(Even today, Plantier’s page in the Rotoworld database is my Internet Explorer home page. I wanted a player page that was completely empty, making it quicker to load, and since Plantier has been out of baseball since 1998, it doesn’t get any emptier than that. I have no idea why he wasn’t purged from the database a decade ago.)

Plantier was also really, really good, if only for a brief spell. As a 22-year-old rookie, Plantier hit .331/.420/.615 with 11 homers in 53 games in 1991. That was before the offensive explosion that followed, and Plantier’s slugging percentage and OPS would have led the AL at those rates.

Plantier, though, had a rough go of it in 1992, hitting .246/.332/.361 with seven homers in 349 at-bats. The Red Sox opted to trade him to the Padres for middle reliever Jose Melendez after that season. It was probably the first baseball trade that I absolutely loathed. Melendez proved completely worthless to Boston, getting hurt and throwing just 19 innings in two seasons before his career came to an end.

Meanwhile, Plantier busted out in San Diego, hitting .240/.335/.509 with 34 homers and 100 RBI in 138 games. He finished seventh in the NL in homers and ninth in RBI.

Unfortunately, that was pretty much it for him. Injuries limited Plantier to 96 games the next season, and he hit just .220/.302/.440. He became a journeyman afterwards, playing for Houston, Oakland, San Diego and St. Louis again. Something of a “Moneyball player” before Moneyball, he ended his career with a .243/.332/.439 line and 91 homers in 1,883 at-bats. But Plantier was more a victim of injuries than of managers not appreciating him because of his low average.

Now the guy with the funky stance who struggled to hit better than .250 is going to try to teach others to hit. And I’m finding myself rooting for him again.

Jake Arrieta to return to Cubs’ rotation on Thursday

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Cubs starter Jake Arrieta has been out over two weeks with a strained right hamstring, but he’s ready to return to action. The right-hander threw a bullpen on Tuesday and it went well, so he will start in Thursday’s series opener against the Brewers in Milwaukee, MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat reports.

Arrieta, 31, returns with a 14-9 record, a 3.48 ERA, and a 157/53 K/BB ratio in 160 1/3 innings. If he stays on schedule, he’ll make three starts through the end of the regular season, including the regular season finale on October 1 against the Reds.

Arrieta is expected to max out at 75-80 pitches on Thursday and will ramp up through the end of the month.

Cardinals activate Adam Wainwright from the disabled list

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The Cardinals announced ahead of Tuesday’s series opener against the Reds that pitcher Adam Wainwright has been activated from the 10-day disabled list.

Wainwright, 36, has been absent since mid-August due to a right elbow impingement. The Cardinals plan to use him out of the bullpen through the end of the season. Prior to the injury, the right-hander posted a disappointing 5.12 ERA with a 96/44 K/BB ratio in 121 1/3 innings.

Wainwright is under contract for one more year at $19.5 million before becoming eligible for free agency.