October 2010

Baylor to be named hitting coach

PHOENIX  — The D-backs have agreed to terms with Don Baylor to become the team’s hitting coach, an industry source confirmed Monday. An announcement could come later this week.

Baylor, 61, had served as hitting coach for the Rockies in 2009 and 2010 before being dismissed nearly 10 days ago.

Baylor replaces Jack Howell, who was promoted to hitting coach in May of 2009 at the same time that A.J. Hinch was named manager. Howell was dismissed by the D-backs at the end of the 2010 season.

One of the first tasks for Baylor will be to find a way to reduce the number of strikeouts. The D-backs set a Major League record with 1,529 smashing the previous mark of 1,399 set by the 2001 Milwaukee Brewers.

New GM Kevin Towers said during his introductory press conference that cutting down on strikeouts was a priority for him.

“Personally, I like contact hitters,” Towers said at the time. “I like guys that have good pitch recognition. Strikeouts are a part of the game, but if you have four or five of six guys in your lineup [who are prone to strikeout], it’s hard to sustain any sort of rally. I’m a big believer in pitch recognition, grinding out an at-bat, seeing a lot of pitches.”

Baylor played 19 seasons in the big leagues and was the 1979 American League Most Valuable Player. Under his tutelage, the Rockies finished third in the National League in runs scored last year.

Baylor managed the Rockies from 1993-98 and the Cubs from 2000-02. He has spent seven seasons as a batting coach with the Brewers (1990-91), Cardinals (1992), Braves (1999), Mariners (2005) and Rockies (2009-10) and also was bench coach for the Mets in 2003-04.

Rangers on the brink

It seems so hard to believe, but as we sit here right now, the Rangers are one game away from vanquishing the mighty New York Yankees and heading to their first-ever World Series.

After the Rangers melted down in the eighth inning of Game 1, one member of the media asked aloud in the press box, “How many teams in baseball are not afraid of the Yankees?”

The implication, of course, was that the Rangers clearly were intimidated by the Bronx Bombers as evidenced by their 10-game playoff losing streak to them.

Now, the Yankees may indeed make a comeback in this series — though really after watching the last three games you have to really wonder about that likelihood of that — but Ron Washington’s Rangers are not afraid of anyone.

Speaking of Washington, the more I am around him or listen to him hear him talk, the more impressed I am with him. Nothing seems to rattle him and the confidence he displays in his players is clear and surely must play a role in the way the Rangers have handled this postseason.

One other thing that jumps out to me about this series is the way the bullpens have been managed.

Now look, I understand that we are in the Era of Closers and as such managers are careful to only use their closers in save situations (after all there’s that whole loud music/video presentation that needs to accompany their entrances). But consider this: Each team has hurt itself during this series by not using their best relief pitcher at crucial times.

First there was Washington electing not to use his closer Neftali Feliz in the eighth inning of Game 1. Maybe Feliz would have done no better than Darren Oliver, Darren O’Day or Clay Rapada, but don’t you have to go down with your best on the mound? What if Feliz had been the one to come on in the eighth and shut the Yankees down? It would mean the Rangers would be back in Texas right now getting ready for Game 1 of the World Series.

Yankees skipper Joe Girardi made a questionable decision in Game 3 when he elected not to bring on Mariano Rivera to start the ninth against the Rangers.

True, the Yankees were down in that game, 2-0, but with Cliff Lee at 122 pitches through eight, the Rangers were going to have to go to Feliz in the ninth. Maybe Feliz would have gotten the job done, but if you’re the Yankees don’t you like the thought of the youngster having to get the final three outs at Yankee Stadium with just a two-run lead?

Instead, Girardi went with Boone Logan, David Robertson and Sergio Mitre, the Rangers scored six runs and Feliz had a nice cushion to work with in the bottom of the ninth.

It just seems like the whole closer situation has gotten out of control. I get the arguments for the specialized role — there’s a lot of pressure in the ninth inning, pitchers like to know their roles, if you bring in someone to pitch the eighth you still have to worry about those three outs in the ninth etc. — but teams have created a cottage industry of sorts around the closer with all the entrance music/graphics that the salaries and importance of these pitchers continue to grow even while the amount they pitch seems to shrink.

It just seems counter intuitive to not have your best reliever on the mound when the game is on the line, whether that’s in the seventh, eighth or ninth innings.

Shifting momentum

I know most of you look here expecting Diamondbacks news, but thought I would provide some bonus coverage while I am covering the American League Championship Series. Certainly for better insight check out the blogs of my two MLB.com colleagues Bryan Hoch  and T.R. Sullivan.

It is always fascinating to see how the momentum, or at least the perception of momentum, can change from game to game in the postseason.

After the Rangers heartbreaking loss in Game 1 the consensus was that they were done. The Yankees seemed to have the upper hand when it came to the Game 2 pitching matchup and they also seemed to be in the Rangers’ heads.

That lasted for all of about 24 hours. Then the Rangers came out and blitzed Phil Hughes and the whole feel of the series seemed to change. Suddenly, the Rangers have Cliff Lee throwing Game 3 and after that they face A.J. Burnett, who has had a miserable year, plus they have Lee coming back in a possible Game 7.

Of course if the Yankees find a way to beat Lee in Game 3, which is certainly not out of the question, the momentum shifts back dramatically to the Yankees.

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Speaking of Lee, I am amazed at how relaxed he seemed Sunday. I mean this is a guy who is expected to win when he takes the mound tonight. I mean more than expected, he is being counted on to win and if he doesn’t it changes the entire dynamic of the series.

Yet the left-hander sat in the interview room Sunday talking about tonight’s game as though he were talking about a regular season game in June.

I talked to several of his teammates to try and get a read on whether he truly was relaxed or if he was just putting on a good front and they all said that he never gets uptight. That he’s just a simple guy who goes about his business with a tremendous amount of confidence.

Forget for a minute the tremendous physical talent he must possess to do what he does with the baseball and think for a moment about the mental strength he has to be able to deal with the pressure and expectations that come his way.

That to me is every bit as impressive if not more so.

Gibson signs 2-year deal; staff changes

PHOENIX — The D-backs will hold a 3 p.m. MST press conference to announce that they have signed manager Kirk Gibson to a two-year contract with a club option for 2013.

Gibson served as interim manager after A.J. Hinch was dismissed on July 1 and compiled a 34-49 record while receiving praise inside the organization for changing the culture inside the clubhouse.

At the time of his promotion, Gibson was in his fourth season as the team’s bench coach after serving in the same capacity for the Tigers from 2003-05.
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The D-backs also shook up their coaching staff Monday, reassigning or dismissing all but first-base coach Matt Williams and bullpen coach Glenn Sherlock.

Bench coach Bo Porter and hitting coach Jack Howell were dismissed, while pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. and third-base coach Jack Youngblood were offered other positions in the organizations.

Williams, who played for the D-backs from 1998-2003, just completed his first season as the team’s first-base coach. Previously he had worked for the organization as a Spring Training Instructor and He also has a small ownership stake in the franchise.

Williams has been credited with helping third baseman Mark Reynolds cut down his league-leading error total from 2008 and infielders like shortstop Stephen Drew have praised him for his work with them.

Sherlock has been with the D-backs since their inception. He served as the organization’s catching coordinator from 1996-1997 when the franchise only had Minor League teams. Following the 1997 Expansion Draft, Sherlock joined the team’s Major League staff as a bullpen/catching coach.

Aside from one-year stints as bench coach and first-base coach, Sherlock has remained in the bullpen coach role, working under Buck Showalter, Bob Brenly, Al Pedrique, Bob Melvin, A.J. Hinch and now Gibson.

Porter joined the coaching staff prior to 2010 after being the third-base coach for the Marlins. Porter served as Hinch’s third-base coach, but moved to bench coach when Hinch was dismissed July 1. He interviewed for the Marlins’ managerial opening in June and is expected to be a candidate for several managing jobs this fall.

Stottlemyre and Howell were promoted to their positions on May 8, 2009 when Hinch was hired to replace Melvin.

Stottlemyre had been the organization’s Minor League pitching coordinator from 2007 until the time of his promotion.

Howell had worked for nine seasons in the Arizona organization and was the team’s Minor League field coordinator before being promoted last year.

Youngblood was named the team’s third-base coach in July after Gibson was named interim manager. Prior to that he had served as the organization’s outfield/baserunning coordinator.

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