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Offensive decline costs Murray

Dodgers fire their hitting coach after a drop-off in production. `Technique' issues cited.

June 15, 2007|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

Step 1: Fire Eddie Murray as hitting coach. Step 2: Go on offensive rampage.

That two-step program worked wonders for the Cleveland Indians two years ago, and the Dodgers took the same first step on Thursday, in the hope of reviving their offense. In announcing the dismissal of Murray on Thursday, the Dodgers essentially said they believe in their hitters more than their Hall of Fame hitting coach.

"We're under-hitting," Manager Grady Little said. "Our expectations with this offense are much greater. Hopefully, a change will get it going."

The Dodgers appointed Bill Mueller, who retired after last season, as interim hitting coach. General Manager Ned Colletti said the search for a permanent replacement could take "a day, a week or a month."

They could consider Ron Jackson, Little's hitting coach when he managed the Boston Red Sox. Jackson, a former Dodgers minor league coach, was fired by the Red Sox after last season and works in the Houston Astros' organization.

The Dodgers might also consider three former major league hitting coaches on their minor league staff -- Mike Easler, Bill Robinson and Gene Clines. Colletti said Mueller would be considered, but Mueller said he is "not sure" whether he would be interested.

Colletti said he had considered the move for several weeks, and he and Little informed Murray of the decision late Wednesday night, after the clubhouse emptied following the Dodgers' 9-1 victory over the New York Mets.

"We would like to get to a point where everyone is on the same page with everyone else -- the coach with the hitters, and the hitters with the coach," Little said.

The Indians fired Murray from his only other job as a major league hitting coach in June 2005, at a time they ranked last in the American League in runs scored and last in on-base percentage. At the end of the season, after replacing Murray with minor league hitting coach Derek Shelton, the Indians ranked fourth in runs scored and third in on-base percentage.

Cleveland Manager Eric Wedge had inherited Murray and struggled to work closely with him. The Indians reportedly were concerned about Murray's inability to connect with young players and his preference that players approach him rather than vice versa.

Six months after the Indians dismissed Murray, Colletti and Little selected him as the Dodgers' hitting coach. By this spring, according to a source, Murray had privately expressed concern over his job security and players had grumbled about poor communication with him.

Colletti said the decision did not reflect concern with how Murray would deal with the Dodgers' infusion of young hitters. Little said the dismissal involved issues of hitting "technique," not communication, and cited the Dodgers' patience at the plate as "one of the areas."

The Dodgers rank 14th in the National League in pitches seen, ahead of only the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals.

The Dodgers scored 5.06 runs per game last season, the most since 1962, and led the league with a .276 batting average and .348 on-base percentage. They are averaging 4.36 runs per game this season, ranking sixth in batting average (.261) and seventh in on-base percentage (.329).

The on-base percentages of returnees Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Kent and Rafael Furcal and newcomer Juan Pierre all are down significantly this season.

Little said he had previously spoken with Murray about addressing issues of technique, including patience.

"Everything was brought up," Little said, then paused and added: "Eddie did a great job. He's a great hitting coach. We've got a lot of respect for the man. Right now, we needed a little more in results from every hitter on the club."

Murray, 51, was not available for comment.

He is one of four players in major league history with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, along with Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Rafael Palmeiro. Murray played for the Dodgers from 1989 to '91 and returned to finish his career in 1997.

Mueller, 36, joined the Dodgers' front office upon his retirement, assisting Colletti with player evaluation on the amateur and professional levels. He hit .291 in 11 major league seasons and won the American League batting title with the Boston Red Sox in 2003, hitting .326.

"Bill Mueller will serve as a very solid bridge," Colletti said, "as we look for our next hitting coach."

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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Begin text of infobox

More fizzle than sizzle

The Dodgers rank sixth in the National League in batting average (13th in the major leagues) but third to last in the majors in home runs:

TOP 6 NL BATTING AVERAGES

*--* Overall Team Avg. 7. New York Mets 271 9. Chicago Cubs 268 10. Atlanta 266 11. Colorado 265 12. Philadelphia 263 13. Dodgers 261

*--*

BOTTOM 5 ML HOME RUNS

*--* Overall Team Avg. 26. Baltimore 49 27. Kansas City 48 28. Dodgers 44 29. Colorado 43 30. Washington 41

*--*

Note: Cincinnati leads the majors with twice as many home runs as the Dodgers (88).

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