Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Rays fire Derek Shelton, name Chad Mottola hitting coach

ST. PETERSBURG — Derek Shelton knew he was going to get fired from his job as Rays hitting coach at some point. There had been enough scrutiny, enough slumps and skids during his seven-year run that there were several junctures when he wouldn't have been shocked to get that call.

But Tuesday morning, with a month left in the season, and with the offense on a marked recent upswing?

"The timing of it was surprising," Shelton said.

In naming minor-league hitting coordinator Chad Mottola to take over, starting Thursday in New York and through at least next season, the Rays said their primary objective was to find a "new voice" who could connect better with the players.

Doing so raised some eyebrows in the clubhouse, with veteran leader Evan Longoria saying he was caught off guard by the move and felt Shelton had done a "great" job, Kevin Kiermaier among those refusing to say anything and the group gathering in the batting cage for an impromptu session to hear what manager Kevin Cash would say.

And it raised several questions.

The biggest, of course, was why?

That seemed a bit hard for Rays brass to fully explain, beyond the "new voice" mantra. Even baseball operations president Matt Silverman acknowledged "it is very difficult to measure the success of a hitting coach," or any other since it is so much more about the players.

Certainly there was statistical cause, as the Rays during Shelton's 2010-16 tenure ranked 11th in the American League in runs (4,738), 13th in average (.247) and second (or 14th) in strikeouts (8,638), none of which are good.

But there isn't the same correlation as an offensive coordinator in football, as Shelton doesn't call the plays. Nor, no matter how much prep work is done, does he have a speaker in their helmets telling them when to swing. And he certainly wasn't responsible for some of the not ready or not capable players they've had in the lineups as they slog through a third straight losing season.

Cash and Silverman both heaped praise on Shelton for how hard he worked, how good of a rapport he had with the players, how much he knew about hitting and how well he adapted to the different assignments they gave him. They said he did nothing wrong, that they had been talking about doing this for several weeks. The Rays did go to the playoffs three times on his watch, and there were success stories to offset the hitters he failed to reach or make better.

And they made it clear that this change was not being made to facilitate the installation of a new system or plan of attack. "We're not looking to revamp or overhaul anything," Cash said.

But Cash hinted that Shelton's message to some players may have been getting stale, noting in that role there is "a shelf life" and "it was time" for that new voice.

And Silverman said Mottola, who may be a bit broader and less technical in style than Shelton, could be a better conduit.

"Seven years together with our hitters, that approach is one we've been able to get a lot out of it. Derek has changed his message as our personnel has changed, as our philosophies have changed," Silverman said.

"But the connections with the players, we think that there is a possibility and a hope that some of that can improve with a different person in that chair, with a different voice, different relationships, a fresh start."

And, so why now?

What Cash and Silverman said about giving Shelton, who was signed through 2017, more time to find a new gig was polite, but he'll be fine, accepting of the news and sure to land elsewhere.

He said he didn't "know where it came from" given what he felt were "good relationships" with players and bosses, getting the same spiel about the new voice.

This was all about Mottola, about giving him the time to get to know the hitters and, more importantly, for them to get comfortable with and to trust him.

"The last three-four (weeks) will be a good foundation for Chad to continue to build on the relationships that he already has and have something going into the offseason as he's connecting with our core group of guys," Cash said.

As a minor-league coordinator, Mottola is familiar with the younger players but has had limited exposure with the big-league veterans, basically just some occasional spring training interaction. There is a lot he is going to need to learn, as much about personalities as swing planes, and he is going to need every day this move affords him.

Longoria said it can take "a couple months" to develop the proper relationship.

"Pretty much every guy has certain drills they like to do, certain keys that their swing goes off of," he said. "To really understand those nuances, and to really trust a guy as far as him analyzing it doesn't come quickly."

Firing a coach during the season is a bit uncharacteristic for the Rays, but it fits in with the recent stretch of moves — releasing Desmond Jennings, demoting Tim Beckham — to set the tone and establish the framework for a more successful 2017.

In those cases, the Rays sent a strong message. With this move, they are just changing the messenger.

Marc Topkin can be reached at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.


About Chad Mottola

Name: Charles Edward Mottola (muh-TOLE-uh)

Age: 44

Born: Augusta, Ga.

High school: St. Thomas Aquinas, Fort Lauderdale

College: Central Florida

Playing career: Played 16 pro seasons, including parts of five in majors with Reds (1996), Blue Jays (2000, 2006), Marlins (2001) and Orioles (2004), getting 125 at-bats, posting .200 average. Won Triple-A International League MVP in 2000 with Syracuse. Played part of 2003 with Rays Triple-A Durham team. Retired after 2007 season with a career minor-league average of .280.

Coaching career: Has been one of Rays minor-league hitting coordinators past three seasons. Spent previous six seasons in Toronto organization, including 2013 with Blue Jays.

Did you know: Mottola was taken by the Reds with the No. 5 overall selection in the 1992 draft. With the next pick, the Yankees took a guy named Derek Jeter.

Marc Topkin,

Times staff writer

Rays fire Derek Shelton, name Chad Mottola hitting coach 09/06/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 6, 2016 11:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Luke Del Rio regains UF starting job, for now


    GAINESVILLE — Luke Del Rio is once again the starting quarterback for No. 21 Florida.

    Luke Del Rio provided a needed spark when he replaced starter Feleipe Franks and rallied Florida past Kentucky.
  2. Four questions the Lightning still has to answer

    Lightning Strikes

    FORT LAUDERDALE — The Lightning made its biggest round of cuts Monday, with some of the big-named prospects heading out.

    Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos (91) looks on from the bench during a shift change at Lightning hockey training camp in Brandon on Monday (09/18/17). In background on right is Nikita Kucherov (86). DIRK SHADD   |   Times  

  3. Nine Florida football players, 62 felony complaints in fraud scandal


    GAINESVILLE — The fraud scandal that has engulfed the University of Florida's nationally ranked football team for weeks exploded Monday with the first detailed accounts of criminal accusations that threaten to derail the Gators' season.

    Florida Gators wide receiver Antonio Callaway (81) runs the ball during the Outback Bowl in January at Raymond James Stadium. [CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times]
  4. Where Rays shortstop Matt Duffy's lost season leads

    The Heater

    BRADENTON — In a perfect world Matt Duffy would have been in New York on Monday with his Rays teammates enjoying the final off day of the year. Instead, he was on Field 4 at Pirate City on a sweltering afternoon, trying to restart his season.

    Rays shortstop Matt Duffy plays in his first game (since rehab was aborted) with the club's instructional league on Monday at the Pirate City baseball field and spring training complex in Bradenton [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]
  5. Vinny Lecavalier's jersey retirement will be another classic Vinny moment

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — He was the face of the franchise. He was taken first overall in the 1998 NHL Draft by a franchise at the bottom. Art Williams, the nutty Tampa Bay Lightning owner at the time, proclaimed the 18-year-old from Ile Bizard, a Montreal borough, "the Michael Jordan of hockey."

    Vincent Lecavalier makes a break for the net while playing an exhibition game on Sunday (9/24/17) with the 2017 U.S. Women???‚??„?s National Team at Amalie Arena in Tampa. Lecavalier was the captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the 2000???‚??€œ2001 season and between the 2008???‚??€œ2013 and spent his first 14 NHL seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning before signing with the Philadelphia Flyers.