Touching All the Bases

Juan Nieves Might Have Been a Good Pitching Coach, but He Was a Better Scapegoat

farrell nieves firing.jpg
Juan Nieves, lauded for the job he did with the superb starting rotation when the Red Sox won the World Series two seasons ago, took the fall for this remodeled and mostly inept rotation. The Boston Globe/Matthew J. Lee


The Red Sox should not have fired pitching coach Juan Nieves. They should have given him a turn in their wretched starting rotation. He's 50 years old, sure, but the once-touted Milwaukee lefty couldn't be any lousier than Justin Masterson was on Wednesday.

Actually, no. That might have constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Better to set the man free than to make him spend another lost day with this collection of 10-dollar-armed, 10-cent-brained pitchers, helplessly trying to cure the hapless and incurable.

Nieves, lauded for the job he did with the superb starting rotation when the Red Sox won the World Series two seasons ago, took the fall for this remodeled and mostly inept rotation.

It's not surprising. It's not fair, either.

Every starter -- Rick Porcello (the most competent, if that can be considered praise), Clay Buchholz, Wade Miley, Justin Masterson and Joe Kelly -- has an ERA above league average.

As a rotation, the ERA is 5.54, which is something you'd expect from the late-'90s Devil Rays, but certainly not the five starters on the odds-on favorite to win the division.

Of course, there's a blatant difference between the staff Nieves oversaw in 2013 and this one: Talent. The '13 staff posted a 3.79 ERA -- the franchise's best since 2002 -- and struck out 1,294, a new Red Sox record.

Nieves was more than competent when he had quality pitchers to work with.

Save for Porcello, he sure as hell did not have quality pitchers to work with this year. He had flawed, average pitchers who have not been able to reach even that mediocre standard. What this rotation would give for a John Lackey, let alone a Jon Lester.

I suppose there is a possibility is something we don't know here. During a conference call this afternoon explaining the decision, manger John Farrell said Nieves's "ability to affect change when needed or adjustments required, that wasn't the same as we saw two years ago."

Maybe that means the pitchers were tuning him out -- right, because they've had all the solutions. Or maybe he sat around in a dark room watching '80s Brewers highlights when he was supposed to be teaching Kelly to hit a corner once in a damn while.

But in this immediate aftermath, Nieves looks like such a blatant scapegoat for others' failings that Tom Brady has an urge to hug him. (Sorry about that. Needed to be done.)

This isn't exactly as shameful as Johnny Cumberland getting fired in the locker room immediately after the classic Mike Mussina/David Cone pitchers' duel in 2001, a poorly-timed stunner which prompted Nomar Garciaparra to shout, "This is why no one wants to play in this [bleeping] place."

But it's not good, in part because it's clear it's not just the pitchers for whom Nieves taking the fall. During the conference call, general manager Ben Cherington said this by way of explanation:

"While we're confident that we have many of the pieces in place to improve and will 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."

The key words there: "We have many of the pieces in place." He's doubling down on the subpar rotation he assembled.

This had better not be an indication that his solution to fixing this rotation is the status quo, save for a new pitching coach.

To put it another way: Who is going to get these guys straight? They're either not good enough, a head case, or both.

They need a better pitching coach? If they say so.

But remember, the most acclaimed pitching coach in recent Red Sox history is already here.

He's now the manager, and now that a proven and competent coach has lost his job, know this:

John Farrell's failings with this staff are about to come into sharper focus than ever.

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