Twins hire former Rays pitching coach Neil Allen

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Minnesota Twins starting rotation has been the biggest reason the franchise has plummeted to the big league basement with four straight seasons of at least 92 losses.

The group’s monumental struggles have caused the fan base to clamor for a fresh voice from outside the organization to fill the role of pitching coach on new manager Paul Molitor’s staff. After filling several spots candidates who have strong ties to the Twins, Molitor and general manager Terry Ryan went with an unfamiliar face for arguably the most important position.

Neil Allen, the pitching coach for Tampa Bay’s Triple-A affiliate in Durham for the past four seasons, was appointed as Twins pitching coach on Tuesday. He’s never been a pitching coach in the majors but did play a big role in helping to shepherd several of the Rays’ top prospects up to the big leagues, including Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and Matt Moore.

”We decided to start fresh, and I think this is an opportunity for both parties involved,” Ryan said. ”I think this is an opportunity to kind of pave our new way here. It will be a challenge, we know that. We’ve got issues here, we know that. We know Neil’s not afraid of it. And we’re not afraid to have him at the helm of our pitching staff.”

The team also hired former Twins closer Eddie Guardado as the bullpen coach and Joe Vavra, who has been an assistant on fired manager Ron Gardenhire’s staff since 1996, as the bench coach.

When Molitor was hired to replace Gardenhire, he said hiring the right pitching coach was essential, given his own background as a Hall of Fame hitter.

”Coming from the Tampa Bay organization, certainly Neil’s got a resume and a reputation over there,” Ryan said. ”Not only has he helped them become who they are, individually there are some very impressive guys that have come through him. … I liked the tone. I liked the energy. I liked his answers, as did Paul.”

The 56-year-old Allen was the bullpen coach for the Yankees in 2005 and pitched for the Mets, Cardinals, Yankees, White Sox and Indians during an 11-year big league playing career. Allen said Molitor’s lack of managerial experience did not deter him from the job, nor did the Twins’ rotation, which has an ERA that has been at the bottom of the majors for most of the past four years.

”I think I’m very well-groomed and ready for this opportunity,” Allen said. ”I’ve been a pitching coach for almost 20 years now and have been on bus rides all around the country, so I’ve learned a lot. My philosophy is I want to get to know these guys the best as I can and get them to execute to the best of their abilities. I want them to get to be comfortable with me and what I expect out of them.”

Guardado spent 12 of his 17 seasons as a reliever with the Twins and figures to bring a fiery edge to a team that has been criticized for lacking competitiveness.

”Eddie has a lot of the attributes we’re looking for,” Ryan said. ”We’re looking forward to him and Neil working in unison. He has the type of mentality we’re looking for. He had a great career, most of which was here. And he’s familiar with our staff because he’s been in camp, which doesn’t hurt any.”

Allen, Guardado and Vavra join hitting coach Tom Brunansky, assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez and third base coach Gene Glynn on Molitor’s staff. Ryan expects to soon hire a first base coach but said previous coaches Terry Steinbach and Scott Ullger would not return.

The Twins also announced that right-hander Anthony Swarzak, who spent the last five seasons, was assigned outright to Triple-A Rochester. Swarzak can decline and elect to become a free agent.