In what can be interpreted as a show of support for manager Bobby Valentine, the Red Sox on Monday fired pitching coach Bob McClure.
General manager Ben Cherington said the decision was based on performance. That Red Sox starting pitchers have a 4.82 earned run average, the fourth-worst in the American League, certainly provided ample cause.
But McClure also tangled with Valentine throughout the season, to the point where they rarely spoke. Their communication improved in recent weeks, but the relationship was never a productive one.
Randy Niemann, who was the assistant pitching coach, will replace McClure through at least the end of the season. Niemann has a long history with Valentine, having coached under him with the Mets from 1997-2002.
Cherington said “no” when asked if any other changes were planned to the coaching staff. Bench coach Tim Bogar and bullpen coach Gary Tuck have had their differences with Valentine as well.
“This decision didn’t have anything to do with that. We felt like we needed to make a change to put our pitchers in the best position to do what they needed to do in the next six weeks,” Cherington said. “The next six weeks are important no matter what our record ends up.”
Cherington said the hope is to lay a good foundation going into the offseason.
“We felt like this change was needed to give ourselves the best chance to do that,” he said.
It was a busy offday for the Red Sox, who also announced that left fielder Carl Crawford would undergo season-ending elbow surgery. That decision was expected. But the removal of McClure came as a surprise as the Sox usually wait until after the season to make personnel changes.
The Red Sox, at 59-63, are mired in fourth place in the AL East largely because of their underperforming starters. The team is 17-29 in games started by Jon Lester (7-10, 5.03 ERA) and Josh Beckett (5-11, 5.23), the two pitchers expected to carry the staff.
Daniel Bard, a stellar relief pitcher who was made into a starter, lasted only 11 games before being demoted to Triple A Pawtucket.
Niemann is the fourth pitching coach the Red Sox have had in four seasons. John Farrell left after the 2010 season to become the manager of the Blue Jays. He was replaced by Curt Young, who lasted only one season. Then came McClure.
Many of the Red Sox pitchers attended a charity bowling event hosted by Beckett at Jillian’s Lucky Strike Lanes across from Fenway Park on Monday night.
“No, man, I’ve got nothing to say,” Beckett said when asked about McClure, “and you shouldn’t be asking at all right now.”
But Lester was more forthcoming.
“It’s too bad that we had to make a move like that, but you’ve got to understand the nature of the beast as far as us not performing well,” he said. “You don’t ever want a coach to take responsibility. It’s a tough situation, but talking with Mac, he seems like he’s in a good place and hopefully he can move forward from here and go from there.”
The turnover in pitching coaches, Lester said, does have an effect.
“Everyone has their own philosophy as far as how to pitch guys, preparation and all that stuff, so that’s been tough,” he said. “But as far as you as a pitcher — if you don’t know yourself and know what works for you then you need to go back to the minor leagues. We’ll figure out how to prepare from here and go from there.”
Clay Buchholz, who has emerged as the most reliable starter, was surprised by the news.
“I knew that the team probably wanted to make a move just to make something happen, I don’t know,” he said. “Mac, I had a really good relationship with him. I talked to him every day and it was an odd move to me, but that’s why it’s a business and the team’s going to do what it thinks it needs to do to win.”
McClure, 60, was fired as pitching coach of the Royals last season after six seasons. The Red Sox hired him as a minor league instructor and scout before Valentine was hired as manager.
When no accord could be reached on a pitching coach after several other candidates were interviewed, McClure was given the position.
“We have great respect for Bob. He’s a quality guy and I think a good coach. It didn’t work out the way we hoped,” Cherington said.
“Whenever it doesn’t work out, we have to look at ourselves first and ask what, if anything, we could have done differently to make it work better. The fact that it just wasn’t working out, we needed to make a change and the right thing to do was give everyone a fresh start and give Bob a fresh start.”
Niemann, 56, has never been a major league pitching coach. But he has been a bullpen coach and was the rehabilitation pitching coordinator for the Mets. He spent parts of eight seasons pitching in the majors.
“Randy has a lot of experience. He knows our guys well. He’s been involved with the pitching staff pretty intimately since the beginning of spring training. There won’t be any learning curve, that’s for sure,” Cherington said.
“We feel like he can be part of the solution to making sure we get a lot of good work done with our pitchers the rest of the season.”
Niemann was in uniform and on the bench for much of the season before the Red Sox were told by Major League Baseball that they could not have seven coaches in uniform.