Pirates fire coaches Kerrigan, Varsho
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The Pirates this morning fired pitching coach Joe Kerrigan and bench coach Gary Varsho, moves initiated by manager John Russell and approved by general manager Neal Huntington.
"I made the call," Russell said.
Kerrigan will be replaced by Ray Searage, who had been the assistant pitching coach, and Varsho will be replaced by Jeff Banister, who had been the minor-league field coordinator.
"It was a very gut-wrenching decision," Russell said. "There are some issues I've been working through for quite some time now that could not be resolved in a way I felt would be for the betterment of this organization. I respect both men greatly. I lost two friends today. That's tough to deal with. But my main focus is this team, this organization, and I felt moving forward that this was the time to do this. With two months left in the season, I wanted to accomplish something this year moving into next year."
Russell was asked if those "issues" were related to baseball or loyalty.
"Just some issues that I felt we needed to change," he said. "Things I tried to work through. I'm not going to go into details out of respect of those two men. I'm just going to leave it at that."
Huntington stood with Russell as Russell spoke.
"Both Gary and Joe are quality baseball men who have worked hard during their time with the organization," Huntington said. "However, JR felt strongly, and I agreed, that they were no longer the right fit for our staff and a change at this time was in the best interest of the club."
Kerrigan oversaw some of the worst starting pitching in franchise history, with the rotation a combined 21-58 with a 5.38 ERA, both figures the second-worst in Major League Baseball, better only than the Baltimore Orioles. He also oversaw clear regressions with two of the Pirates' most important young pitchers, Charlie Morton and Brad Lincoln, both now back with Class AAA Indianapolis after failed stints in Pittsburgh.
In the case of Lincoln, Huntington cited at the time of his demotion July 25 "some mechanical changes at the major-league level" as being responsible for a drop in velocity.
There also is a feeling among some in the clubhouse that there were issues of loyalty to Russell, though no one would discuss that for the record.
Searage, 55, has spent 33 years in professional baseball, the past eight rising through the Pirates' system. He was promoted from Class AAA Indianapolis to Pittsburgh this past offseason to get what management described as on-the-job training as Kerrigan's assistant. Most of his work came in the bullpen.
"Ray's been here," Russell said. "He has a feel for the league a little bit now, a feel for the staff. We brought Ray in as an extra guy in the bullpen for that fact. We feel like he knows the system, knows where we are."
Kerrigan was mostly focused on pitcher-batter matchups, relying heavily on statistics. Searage's approach, as he described it, will be more involved with the pitching.
"Sometimes, I fly by the seat of my pants, but don't read into that," Searage said with a laugh. "I go by my instincts, by my relationships that I develop with the pitchers. I get their feedback, and it's not my way or the highway. It's our way. We're trying to create a winning situation and pick off some things, whether they're mechanical flaws or sequences."
Asked if he is the tinkering type: "I try not to do that. Minor adjustments are what I look for. Usually, if you take care of one, two will fall right into place and, before you know it, it makes it a lot easier to execute pitches. Joe has taught me a lot on numbers and percentages, and I'll try to integrate that, too."
On the starters' potential, Searage said: "We just have to work hard and get back to the drawing board. There are some specific things I don't want to address right now because I haven't gone over them with the starters. But, if I you saw what James McDonald did the other night, throwing changeups to right-handers, and Ross Ohlendorf did that last night, with changeups to right-handers, that is an important thing you must have as a starter. If you're going 50-50 with fastballs and sliders, that's easier for the hitter."
Banister, 45, is in his 25th year with the organization and is among its most respected people in any capacity. He has served as a player -- including a single in his only major-league at-bat July 23, 1991, at Three Rivers Stadium, owning a 1.000 career average -- as well as a minor-league manager and coach, and he also has spent time on the major-league staff.
"Banny, the leadership he has shown as field coordinator, the leadership he's shown in our system, the dedication, the drive, the commitment to the Pirates as a whole, it's a great addition," Russell said.
Bullpen coach Luis Dorante will resume those duties full-time, having carried that title but actually shifting most of his work to the catchers.
First Published August 8, 2010 9:42 am