The Boston Red Sox reacted to a slow start to the season by firing their pitching coach on Thursday. If you can’t fire the pitching staff, fire the coach instead. While there is plenty of blame to pass around for Boston’s lackluster performance so far, Juan Nieves became the scapegoat.
In a press conference held Thursay afternoon, general manager Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell provided an explanation for the decision, which points primarily to the struggles of the pitching staff, particularly with the starting rotation.
"“Given the performance that we’ve had to date, we’ve been looking at all of those things,” Cherington explained via conference call, “and while we’re confident that we have many of the pieces in place to improve and that we’ll see improvement, John and I simply got to the point where we felt that in order to continue to push forward and make improvements, we needed to make a change and have a different voice in that particular position.”"
Of course Cherington remains confident that they have many of the pieces in place, considering he’s the one responsible for putting those pieces together. Essentially, he’s deflecting blame and banking on his pitchers to improve under the guidance of a new pitching coach.
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Nieves was hired prior to the 2013 season after he had spent the previous 14 years in the Chicago White Sox organization. He oversaw a pitching staff that showed immediate improvement under his watch, posting a collective 3.79 ERA, the lowest mark for the club since 2002.
Since then the pitching staff has regressed. The Red Sox rank 29th in the majors with a 4.86 ERA, while the starters have been particularly dreadful with a 5.54 ERA. Due to the inability of the starters to pitch effectively enough to work deep into games, the overworked bullpen has piled up a major league-high 101.1 innings already. This has resulted in a revolving door to the bullpen, as the team has been forced to make constant roster changes to keep fresh arms available and led to both Anthony Varvaro and Edward Mujica being designated for assignment.
"“I think what it comes down to is focusing on the rotation – maybe the most important (thing) – and that’s not to overlook any other person on the staff,” said Farrell. “But because the rotation pitches the bulk of the innings and the quality that’s required, stability that’s needed, whether or not that same connection was made with the current group to bring about the consistency of performance.”"
The decision to let Nieves go has been a difficult one for Farrell, who hand-picked him as Boston’s new pitching coach after he was hired as manager in 2013. They won a World Series in their first season together, but at the end of the day Farrell realizes this is business and being sentimental about the past can’t be allowed to interfere with winning games in the future.
It remains to be seen if a new pitching coach will lead to any improvement from the pitching staff, particularly since we don’t know who that replacement is yet. Cherington indicated that the club is sorting through candidates with a sense of urgency to find the right fit for the job.
"“We have a very small list of people in mind, and beyond that I can’t say,” said Cherington. “That does include at least one internal and one external candidate. But beyond that, I can’t say if there are more at this time.”"
There has been much speculation over who those candidates may be, but nothing official has been made public yet. Ken Rosenthal revealed that Cleveland Indians Triple A pitching coach Carl Willis could be an option, according to his sources.
Despite that it would certainly be a popular choice in Red Sox Nation, Pedro Martinez told CSNNE’s Jessica Moran that he is not interested in the role. The Hall of Fame pitcher is currently serving as a special assistant to Cherington, while also keeping himself busy promoting his new book.
Former Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek has also had his name floated about as an outside the box option.
A decision regarding the new pitching coach could come soon, possibly even before the Red Sox open their weekend series in Toronto on Friday.