The firing of Bob McClure as pitching coach can be interpreted as a show of support for Bobby Valentine by the Red Sox.
General manager Ben Cherington said the decision was based on performance. That Red Sox starting pitchers have a 4.82 earned run average, the fourth-worst in the American League, certainly provided ample cause.
But McClure also tangled with Valentine throughout the season, to the point where they rarely spoke. Their communication improved in recent weeks, but the relationship never a productive one.
Randy Niemann, who was on the staff as the assistant pitching coach, will replace McClure at least through the end of the season. Niemann has a long history with Valentine, having coached under him when both were with the Mets from 1997-2002.
Cherington said “no” when asked if any other changes were planned to the coaching staff. Bench coach Tim Bogar and bullpen coach Gary Tuck have had their differences with Valentine as well.
“This decision didn’t have anything to do with that. We felt like we needed to make a chance to put our pitchers in the best position to do what they needed to do in the next six weeks,” Cherington said. “The next six weeks are important no matter what our record ends up.”
The 59-63 Red Sox are mired in fourth place largely because of their underperforming starters. The team is 17-29 in games started by Jon Lester (7-10, 5.03) and Josh Beckett (5-11, 5.23), the two pitchers expected to carry the staff.
Daniel Bard, a stellar relief pitcher who was made into a starter, lasted only 11 games before being demoted to Triple A Pawtucket.
Niemann is the fourth pitching coach the Red Sox have had in four seasons. John Farrell left after the 2010 season to become the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. He was replaced by Curt Young, who lasted only one season. Then came McClure.
Many of the Red Sox pitchers attended a charity event hosted by Beckett at Jillian’s Lucky Strike Lanes across from Fenway Park on Monday night.
“No, man, I’ve got nothing to say,” Beckett said when asked about McClure, “and you shouldn’t be asking at all right now.”
But Lester was more forthcoming.
“It’s too bad that we had to make a move like that, but you’ve got to understand the nature of the beast as far as us not performing well,” he said. “You don’t ever want a coach to take responsibility. It’s a tough situation, but talking with Mac, he seems like he’s in a good place and hopefully he can move forward from here and go from there.”
Clay Buchholz, who emerged as the most reliable starter, was surprised by the news.
“I knew that the team probably wanted to make a move just to make something happen, I don’t know,” he said. “Mac, I had a really good relationship with him. I talked to him every day and it was an odd move to me, but that’s why it’s a business and the team’s going to do what it thinks it needs to do to win.”
Niemann, 56, has never been a major league pitching coach. But he has been a bullpen coach and was the rehabilitation pitching coordinator for the Mets. He spent parts of eight seasons pitching in the majors.
“Randy has a lot of experience. He knows our guys well. He’s been involved with the pitching staff pretty intimately since the beginning of spring training. There won’t be any learning curve, that’s for sure,” Cherington said.
See the Globe tomorrow for more on the move.