Pirates relieve Kerrigan, Varsho of duties

Pirates relieve Kerrigan, Varsho of duties

PITTSBURGH -- A Pirates clubhouse that was ecstatic after its biggest win of the season on Saturday had a considerably toned down atmosphere less than 12 hours later.

On Sunday, Pittsburgh relieved pitching coach Joe Kerrigan and bench coach Gary Varsho of their duties before the finale of its four-game series with Colorado at PNC Park.

Ray Searage, who was the assistant pitching coach, is now the interim pitching coach, and Minor League field coordinator Jeff Banister is now the interim bench coach. Bullpen coach Luis Dorante resumes his regular role full-time after receiving assistance from Searage this season.

"It was a very gut-wrenching decision," said Pirates manager John Russell, taking full responsibility for the moves. "There's some issues that I've been working through for quite some time now that could not be resolved, resolved in a way which I felt was going to be for the betterment of this team and this organization."

Russell would not specify whether those issues were baseball- or loyalty-related, saying he lost two friends and respected both men.

"[Russell] has made me aware of some issues that he was struggling to resolve," Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington said on his weekly radio show. "It got to a point in time here as of late that he felt it was the right time and the best time to make a change."

Kerrigan joined the Pirates prior to the 2009 season after 12 seasons of various coaching roles with the Expos, Red Sox, Phillies and Yankees. He also had a four-year pitching career with the Expos and Orioles that ended in 1980.

But the Pirates' starting staff had struggled for much of this season, entering Sunday with a 5.38 ERA as a group, last in the National League and 29th in the Majors.

"It's unfortunate. Joe helped me a lot over the past few years -- not only here, but where we were at before together," said Pirates starter Jeff Karstens, who spent parts of the 2006 and '07 seasons with the Yankees, during which time Kerrigan was the club's bullpen coach.

"It's one of those things that's part of baseball. It will be a tough day, but we'll find a way."

The rotation has also endured disappointing seasons from Charlie Morton and Brad Lincoln.

Morton went 1-9 with a 9.35 ERA before being optioned back to Triple-A Indianapolis. Lincoln -- the fourth overall pick of the 2006 Draft -- struggled in his first taste of the big leagues, going 1-4 with a 6.57 ERA before being optioned back to Indianapolis after his start on July 26.

"We just have to work hard and get back to the drawing board," Searage said of what is now his staff.

He added that his philosophy is: "not my way or the highway; it's our way."

Searage, who pitched for seven seasons in the Majors, is in his first season with the Pirates' big league staff after serving as a pitching coach at various levels of the organization for seven seasons.

The 55-year-old is now in charge of a staff that has used 25 different pitchers this season, one shy of the single-season club high in 2008.

"Ray has been here. He has a feel for the league a little bit now. He has a feel for the staff," Russell said. "I know we've added some new guys lately, but he has a pretty good feel of what's been going on as far as what they're working on, what they need to continue to work on."

The dismissal of Varsho, who worked with the outfielders, came as a bigger shock.

"I was surprised, but there's nothing I can do about it," Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. "Varsho is a great guy in the outfield and he did good things for us. He did good things for all of us in the outfield, so I know he made me a better player out there. So now it's up to me to be able to learn, to be able to take forth what he taught me and be able to just continue to do those things and continue to make myself a better player."

Banister, taking over Varsho's post, was not with the Pirates on Sunday and will meet them in San Diego, where they open a three-game series on Tuesday.

He is in his 25th season with the Pirates, spending the last eight as the Minor League field coordinator after four years of doing the same at the Major League level.

"I felt moving forward that this was the time to do this, with two months left in the season, about a third left in the season," Russell said. "[I] wanted to accomplish something the rest of this year moving into next year, and I thought it was very important that we started that and we're ready to move forward and take on the challenges that are ahead of us."

Matt Fortuna is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.