Blue Jays manager John Gibbons names five coaches to staff: Griffin
The recently appointed Blue Jays manager John Gibbons wisely waited until after U.S. Thanksgiving weekend to announce his revamped staff for the 2013 season.
Acting quickly on Monday to fill out the Jays' coaching roster, there will be three returnees from former manager John Farrell's staff, Pete Walker, Luis Rivera and Dwayne Murphy, but all will come back in revised roles. In addition, Gibbons has added two newcomers, DeMarlo Hale (bench coach) and Chad Mottola (hitting coach).
The two most significant coaching changes arrive with Walker taking over from Bruce Walton as pitching coach and Mottola being named to replace Murphy with the hitters. Murphy has stepped away from the hitting instructor role to take over from Torey Lovullo at first base, working with the outfielders. Rivera will be taking over from Brian Butterfield at third and defensively with the infielders, two important roles.
Hale takes over from Don Wakamatsu, who had been Farrell's bench coach.
Walker, 43, is replacing Walton, who has not been invited back after a difficult year for the staff. The Jays pitching proved a major disappointment, beset as it was by injuries and lack of strike-zone command in the wake of high expectations. It may not have been Walton's fault, in fact it wasn't, but a change always seemed likely.
The Jays had entered the 2012 season believing the pitching had the necessary depth, especially in the starting rotation, but injuries to Dustin McGowan, Kyle Drabek, Brandon Morrow and Drew Hutchison, plus an inexplicable season-long crisis of confidence by ace Ricky Romero and the lack of expected development by top prospects Deck McGuire, Joel Carreno and Chad Jenkins, combined to throw the staff into disarray. Thus the quick Jays' trade for veteran starting help with the Marlins, in Mark Buerhrle and Josh Johnson.
The Jays head-scratching staff in 2012 finished the season 11th in team ERA, 12th in WHIP and 13th in opponent OPS, ahead of only the Twins. It was a stunning development, a step back considering that two sharp pitching minds were together in the dugout, Farrell, a former respected pitching coach with the Red Sox and Walton, who had more success a year earlier in '11 with basically this same group and Farrell in his first season.
In the second half of the season, the normally outgoing Walton at times appeared stunned by the failure of his staff to respond to any and all fixes, either mental or mechanical. In truth, there may have been too many voices trying to correct the pitching issues, with Farrell and Walton both having strong opinions on what may have been causing the struggles.
The bewildered staff ace, Romero is an example of the difficulties that arise when a slumping pitcher is being pulled from two sides. Walton seemed to be working to try and reenforce and bolster the mental side of Romero's game, while Farrell, intentionally or not, was challenging his ace lefthander to be tougher. Romero visibly sagged.
Walker is no stranger to the Jays' pitching staff. He was bullpen coach in 2012, following a season as the pitching coach at Double-A New Hampshire in 2011. Walker also pitched for the Jays as a swingman, with Gibbons as first his bullpen coach then manager in 2005-06.
Mottola, 41, has been given much credit for fixing the psyches and the swings of many of the players that have been demoted to Triple-A the past two years. Of course part of that was the natural confidence in facing the lower quality of pitching in the Pacific Coast League. Nevertheless, it was thought that even if Murphy returned as hitting coach for 2013, that Mottola could still be added to the major-league staff as an associate hitting coach because of his success at Las Vegas.
Mottola has worked with most of the homegrown hitters as a minor league coach and when Murphy left spring training this year for family reasons in February, Mottola stayed in camp and filled the hitting coach's role. He joined the major-league staff in September under the MLB rule that allows one additional coach in uniform for the final month.
Murphy, 57, is entering his sixth season on the Jays' coaching staff. He was originally hired as first base coach, but when Cito Gaston managed his final season in 2010, Murphy replaced Gene Tenace as hitting coach and stayed on with the offence for the past two seasons under Farrell.
Clearly, the most difficult aspect for Murphy would have been transitioning from Gaston's aggressive "go to the plate with a plan and look for the first good pitch to hit then drive it" philosophy, to Farrell's patient "work your at-bats and let's build up the starter's pitch count to get to middle relief" philosophy. Different messages, same teacher. Tough for students. Tough for coach.
Rivera, 48, is an important cog to the new coaching staff, not only because he takes over from the local legend, Brian Butterfield at third base, but because of the heavy Spanish-speaking makeup of the clubhouse demographic in 2013. Consider that the top four of the Jays' batting order at the moment stands to be Dominican-born in Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Communication is a key.
Rivera, a Puerto Rican former major-league shortstop, has coached first base in the majors with the Indians. He also managed the 2010 AA-New Hampshire Fisher Cats and was added to Farrell's staff in 2011 as a coaching assistant, because they were over the allowable limit of game coaches in uniform. He served as an important liaison in the clubhouse with Latino players like Henderson Alvarez, Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria and others.
Hale, 51, was strongly considered in a solid interview for the managerial post, the job eventually given to Farrell in 2011. Hale was, with Farrell, also on manager Terry Francona's Red Sox staff at the time as his bench coach. In 2012, Hale moved on to Baltimore wityh Buck Showalter and was poised to return to the O's unless he got the Jays' managerial role, considered as he was in another solid interview, again this fall.
But Gibbons was surprisingly given the managerial post, coming from well off the pace in the handicapping of the derby. Jays' GM Alex Anthopoulos followed up by asking Hale if he would still come to Toronto and be the bench coach. Recall that when Gibbons had flown in to discuss a job with the GM, he believed it was to be as Jays' bench coach for someone in his first managerial experience -- like maybe Hale. That role has been reversed.
As for the bullpen coach, a position vacated by Walker, it seems likely that it will be filled internally, perhaps waiting for a decision from someone like Pat Hentgen who had that role before Walker but opted out after one season, preferring to remain with the organization in a job that allowed for more family time with his wife and daughters.