brantley takes over as hitting coach and ernie whitt moves to 1B.
Blue Jays fire hitting coach Barnett
TORONTO (CP) - The reprieve for Toronto Blue Jays hitting coach Mike Barnett was a brief one.
Given the benefit of the doubt by general manager J.P. Ricciardi last fall when the club's coaching staff was turned over, Barnett was fired Monday amid offensive problems that have contributed to seven losses in eight games, including five in a row.
''This isn't a knee-jerk reaction, it's something we've been watching closely for the last year. We're starting to get into the same habits we were in last year,'' Ricciardi said during a conference call.
''Before this thing steamrolled on us, we thought now was the right time to make a move.''
First base coach Mickey Brantley, who was lured to Toronto during the off-season by manager John Gibbons, takes over as hitting coach. Ernie Whitt leaves his bench coach role to replace Brantley.
''I go way back with Mickey, he brings a lot of passion, he's got a presence about him,'' Gibbons said. ''We were not getting the most out of guys we have. Too many guys are not doing what we expect.''
That wasn't the case when the Jays rolled out to a 9-6 start behind a balanced offensive attack, building some quick optimism around the young team. They scored 83 runs in those 15 games, an average of 5.5 per contest, during which they showed patience and discipline at the plate, strong situational hitting and smart pitch selection.
During their current five-game losing streak, which has dropped them to 9-11, they have scored just 12 times and been far less intelligent at the plate.
In three of those setbacks, the Jays squandered numerous opportunities to score at pivotal times and in Sunday's 7-1 loss to Baltimore, they came up empty in a pair of key situations that could have altered the course of the game.
In one example, rookie Russ Adams came up with the bases loaded in the fifth inning and swung at the first two pitches he saw from Sidney Ponson, who had walked the previous three batters on 14 pitches. Adams missed the first pitch and flew out on the second one.
Such poor hitting was common last season, when the Jays finished 67-94 and near the bottom of almost every offensive category.
''We were starting to get into the same patterns (from 2004),'' said Ricciardi. ''We weren't scoring runs, we left a lot of guys on base, our situational hitting is not good.''
Which is why Ricciardi felt his team's solid stats - fourth in hits (186), sixth in runs (95) and seventh in batting (.270) heading into Monday's play - can be deceiving.
Eric Hinske hasn't driven in a run since April 12, both Corey Koskie - who is on a 1-for-21 dryspell and has struck out in his last six at-bats- and Adams are batting under .200. Vernon Wells, the team's best hitter, has yet to get going with any sort of consistency.
Sophomore outfielder Alex Rios is another issue. While he continues to hit fairly well, he rarely drives the ball with authority despite a powerful six-foot-five, 195-pound frame. An inability to pull the ball has so far kept him from being more than a singles hitter.
''Rios is not the No. 1 reason (for the change),'' Ricciardi said. ''He's a young player that's not maximizing his potential. We need more consistency out of his at-bats.''
The Jays have no current plans to add another coach to help ease the load. Gibbons will go without a bench coach for now.
''We'll see how that plays out,'' he said. ''Whitt's been so valuable on the bench for us. If it's not working out, we'll address that.''
Barnett, 46, had been the Jays hitting coach since joining the organization in January 2002. The native of Columbus, Ohio, was given a one-year contract extension on Oct. 4 for the 2005 season.
''He was real professional,'' Ricciardi said of Barnett's reaction. ''He was a classy guy who worked his butt off.''
Brantley, 43, is in his first season with the Jays and was first base coach. The native of Catskill, N.Y., has previous hitting coach experience with the New York Mets.
He worked in the Mets organization from 1996 to 2004 after starting his coaching career with the San Francisco Giants organization. He played in 302 major league games for the Seattle Mariners from 1986 to 1989, hitting .259 with 32 home runs and 125 RBIs.