Diamondbacks part ways with coaches Nagy, Sax

PHOENIX — Pitching coach Charles Nagy and first-base coach Steve Sax will not return to the Diamondbacks in 2014.

The D-backs will have their third first-base coach in as many seasons in 2014 after announcing Tuesday that Sax was relieved of his duties after one season. Nagy’s departure was first reported Monday night.

The D-backs officially announced that Gibson will return for his fifth season as manager, and also said that bench coach Alan Trammell, hitting coach Don Baylor, third base coach Matt Williams, bullpen coach Glenn Sherlock and assistant hitting coach Turner Ward have been invited to return, although it is possible that roles could shift and a new bench coach could be brought in.

“Everything is a fluid situation,” general manager Kevin Towers said. “There could be some slight adjustments to particular roles.”

All coaching contracts are up at the end of October. While all the remaining coaches are expected to return, Towers said things could change during negotiations if, for example, someone feels uncomfortable with a different role.

Sax, who also handled the running game, had been in private business as a motivational speaker after retiring from pro baseball in 1995 before making his coaching debut at any level on on manager Kirk Gibson’s staff this season. The D-backs interviewed former St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Vince Coleman for the first-base vacancy last winter before hiring Sax.

Nagy joined manager Gibson’s staff in 2011, when Ian Kennedy went a career-best 21-4 and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young race to help lead the D-backs to the NL West title at 94-68. The staff had a 3.90 ERA and a league-high 58 saves, with newcomers J.J. Putz and David Hernandez carrying most of the late load.

“We’re a performance-oriented game. We thought we needed a change. Maybe a different voice,” Towers said. “Not to put everything on Charles and Steve for being .500, but we’re not happy with the results.”

Another opening appears possible, though not of the D-backs’ choosing. Williams, who was a finalist for the Colorado Rockies’ managerial job last winter, is believed to be a top candidate for the Washington managerial vacancy, as is Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr. Washington had not asked the D-backs’ permission to speak to Williams as of Monday, according to the Washington Post.

Towers said interviews for the openings will begin shortly and both internal and external candidates will be considered. Former Toronto and Houston pitching coach Brad Arnsberg worked as the D-backs’ rehab coordinator this season.

Sax, 53, was hired last winter to replace Eric Young as the first base and base running coach. The D-backs stole 62 bases this season and were caught 41 times, and their 60 percent success rate was the worst in the majors. They stole 93 bases with a 65 percent success rate in 2012.

“It’s an area I excelled in as a player,” Gibson said of base running. “I’ve had two base-running coaches in two years. Maybe I haven’t helped those guys enough. It’s about being aware and alert about what things are there and when to act. Simply, you have to be alert at all times and you have to act when things are available. You can’t let them slip away.”

It did not help the running game that expected leadoff hitter Adam Eaton, the most likely candidate on the roster to steal bases, missed the first three months of the season with an elbow injury. Eaton, who had 46 stolen bases at three levels in 2012, had five stolen bases in 66 games.

Paul Goldschmidt led the D-backs with 15 stolen bases, and A.J. Pollock had 12. Gerardo Parra had a career-high 10 steals, but he also was thrown out 10 times. Martin Prado was 3 for 8 on stolen-base attempts, and Aaron Hill was 1 for 5.  

In Nagy’s final two seasons, the D-backs’ team ERA was almost exactly what it was in his first year, 3.93 in 2012 and 3.92 this season. But Kennedy never found the form he had in 2011 and was traded to the Padres on July 31 and the bullpen had a major-league-high 29 blown saves this season, when Putz had two stints on the disabled list.

Patrick Corbin led the staff with 14 victories this season. injuries to Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill played a part in limiting the D-backs to 87 quality starts, tied with the Padres for ninth in the National League. 

The D-backs anticipated a better year from No. 2 starter Trevor Cahill in his second season here. Cahill was 8-10 with a 3.99 ERA after missing six weeks with a right hip contusion. The D-backs tweaked Cahill’s delivery while he was on the disabled list, trying to get his release point higher, but Cahill said the last week of the season that he was not comfortable yet. He was 13-12 with a 3.78 ERA in 2012. This season Cahill walked four batters every nine innings, a career high, and also led the NL with 17 wild pitches.
“We haven’t been as healthy,” Towers said, adding, “a few of our pitchers have regressed since 2011. Sometimes that’s leadership. Sometimes that’s players having poor years. Those are areas we need to improve on.”
Towers reiterated a point he made in his season-ending press conference, saying that he wanted his pitchers to challenge hitters more, especially inside. The D-backs gave up a National League-high 156 home runs.
“You have to own the inside part of the plate. The clubs I’ve had that have had success, we’ve been a tough staff. We’re not going to be knocked around,” said Towers, who went to talk about qualifications.
“To me, personality is very important. It has be somebody who can communicate with Gibby. The manager-pitching coach relationship is vital. I want someone who can take the inside half of the plate back, especially in our park. Someone who is not afraid to chew a little rear end at times.”