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Numbers not Tampa Bay Rays' guide in decisions

Rays starter David Price, left, confers with Jim Hickey, who was in charge of a rotation that broke in three rookies this season.

Associated Press

Rays starter David Price, left, confers with Jim Hickey, who was in charge of a rotation that broke in three rookies this season.

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays set team records for runs, homers, walks and on-base percentage this season, but they dumped hitting coach Steve Henderson 1n Monday.

The staff ERA went up more than half a run, their returning starters struggled and the bullpen faltered, but they rehired pitching coach Jim Hickey, along with the four other coaches.

The situations, Rays officials said, were as different as the results.

Despite the offensive statistical success and extensive praise for Henderson's work ethic and dedication, there were some areas of concern, specifically a lack of success in situational hitting — scoring runners from third, making productive outs — and improving their two-strike approach.

"Ultimately we felt like it was time for a new voice," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "We felt like this was a much harder decision to make than not but ultimately felt like this was how we could really advance things going forward. There were some inadequacies offensively this year, but this move isn't a result of us pointing our fingers at Hendu."

Henderson, who has been in the Rays organization for 13 seasons, longer than all but three uniformed personnel (third-base coach Tom Foley, minor-league coaches Steve Livesey and Charlie Montoyo), said he was proud of what he did at the minor- and major-league levels.

"Your answer is as good as mine; maybe they wanted to do something different," he said from his Tampa home. "They wanted to make a change, and that's cool. I had some good years there. … I helped a lot of guys."

Henderson, 56, had the job the past four seasons, as well as the 1998 inaugural season, and spent eight years as the minor-league hitting coordinator. He said he was not offered another position in the organization.

A replacement is not expected to be hired quickly. Friedman said they are still discussing what qualifications they want then plan to assemble an "eclectic group" of candidates.

Hickey's return apparently wasn't in doubt as manager Joe Maddon and Friedman raved about the work he did despite the overall statistical decline and the dropoff of starters James Shields, Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine.

"I really think Hick is a very good pitching coach, and I think he did a great job this year, actually," Maddon said. "Sometimes pitchers have to be accountable to their own work, also.

"I watch him on a daily basis and I know how he prepares, I know how he works with these guys, I know what he's like in the dugout, I know how much he cares. I see all that stuff daily. I've worked with a lot of different pitching coaches … and I really rank him among the best."

Maddon said that "the things that went wrong were pretty much out of his control," such as relievers running out of gas and having to break in three rookie starters against AL East competition, and that criticism of Hickey — a common topic on blogs — is unwarranted.

"You just can't evaluate this whole thing based on ERA; that's where people become confused," Maddon said. "I think he's actually done a very good job, regardless of what any fan may say."

Friedman also praised Hickey's behind-the-scenes work in terms of planning and communication, said he is "a real asset in terms of expediting the maturation process for a lot of our young pitchers" and cited the benefits of continuity.

Also returning are bench coach Dave Martinez, first-base coach George Hendrick (who had considered taking a minor-league assignment), bullpen coach Bobby Ramos and Foley. Length of contract and terms have not been finalized; Maddon is signed through 2012.

More Rays news:

• Todd Greene was let go as the Rays decided to eliminate the position of quality assurance coach.

• Senior adviser Don Zimmer, recovering well from back surgery, has been invited back for his 62nd season in pro ball. Friedman said discussions are ongoing with Brian Anderson, who was assistant to the pitching coach and part-time TV analyst.

• Today is the fourth anniversary of Stuart Sternberg taking over as principal owner; attendance has gone up each season, and the team posted two winning records and made it to the postseason once. "We have accomplished so much of what we set out to do in that time frame," Sternberg said.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Numbers not Tampa Bay Rays' guide in decisions 10/05/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 6, 2009 8:37am]
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