Arnsberg out, Brocail in as pitching coach
'Philosophical differences' root cause of coaching change
HOUSTON -- It's clear the Astros' dismissal of pitching coach Brad Arnsberg on Tuesday had more to do with the differences he was having with manager Brad Mills than anything Arnsberg had done with regards to developing pitchers or the performance of the staff.
In a move that came out of the blue, the Astros relieved Arnsberg of his duties and named former Major League pitcher Doug Brocail as interim pitching coach. Brocail, who had been serving as a special assistant to general manager Ed Wade, was in the dugout on Tuesday night.
Arnsberg's dismissal sent shockwaves through the clubhouse, considering Arnsberg had built a strong relationship with his pitchers. But it became increasingly evident as the season went on that Arnsberg and Mills weren't seeing eye-to-eye, and the Astros felt a change was necessary.
"It was a difference in philosophies, and we couldn't seem to get on the same page," Wade said. "Brad Arnsberg is a tremendous pitching coach, has a great work ethic, and has a great passion for what he does and for the guys that he's worked with. When differences of opinion become philosophical differences, something has to be done about it."
Arnsberg, who was hired following the 2009 season after spending the previous five campaigns in Toronto, was popular with the team's pitchers, and built strong relationships with many of them. He was lauded for his work ethic and his tireless work in the video room. But it wasn't enough to overcome the differences he and Mills were having.
"It was philosophical differences between a manager and a general manager and a pitching coach," Arnsberg said. "I don't want to get into the details. It's just been kind of rearing its ugly head the last 2-3 weeks, and I guess they felt like they had to make a move for the betterment of the club and the staff. I take it like a man."
Mills didn't want to get into specifics about his relationship with Arnsberg, and wished him the best in the future.
"Arnie has brought an awful lot to this ballclub and this franchise in a year and a few months," Mills said. "To have to do something like this is kind of tough, but at the same time, we're all trying to accomplish and create an atmosphere and do whatever we can for these guys to be successful."
The Astros pitching staff ranked 15th in the National League with a 4.69 ERA entering Tuesday, and had blown a league-high 13 saves. But this decision wasn't about numbers.
"The last couple of weeks have really been a bear for me going to the ballpark," Arnsberg said. "I'm always a fun-loving, free-spirited guy and get along with pretty much everybody, and it just hasn't been a whole lot of fun over the last two, three or four weeks. That's not why I intended on staying in this game. And so as far as it being a surprise? I'd have to weigh [in] on the side of no, not really."
Astros pitcher Brett Myers, one of Arnsberg's biggest allies, used the pitching coach as a sounding board for things on and off the field. Myers routinely credited Arnsberg last season, which was the best of his career, in the first year they had worked together.
"He's one of my best friends," Myers said. "I felt like we had that relationship that we could just lean on each other if we had any questions or anything like that. Not that I know more than him, but certain things I could talk about to him. I didn't expect a phone call in the morning to say he was relieved of his duties. That's the way this game is sometimes. People stay around, and sometimes people don't."
Brocail, 44, pitched for 15 seasons in the Major Leagues, including four with the Astros. Since retiring after the 2009 season, Brocail has assisted with the evaluation of Major League and Minor League players in the Astros' system, and has handled some Major League scouting assignments.
"I'm taking over for one of the best pitching coaches in the game," said Brocail, who met with the pitching staff briefly on Tuesday. "We have a lot of work to do. I have to get to know the guys, and get to understand where all these [scouting] reports come from and get to know my staff, as far as who's going to help me and what the guys' tendencies are. It's a little overwhelming, but I like a challenge."
Brocail, who went 52-48 with a 4.00 ERA in 626 Major League games, said he still had to discuss the job with his wife and didn't rule out being a short-timer. But he's expected to at least finish the season.
"We were talking about it the other day, that we haven't had a vacation with our kids in 25 years," Brocail said. "I'm sure that's going to be brought up, and I'm going to listen."
Arnsberg said he's had an outpouring of support from his players. He talked with Myers on the phone for 15 minutes, and asked him to talk to some of the players he never got a chance to talk to personally. He said he got a nice text from reliever Brandon Lyon.
"I leave with my head held very, very high," he said. "I know there's a majority of the players, and I would say 100 percent of the pitchers, hopefully, that have had a good experience with me as I did them, and I would think they would always have my back, no matter what, in any situation.
"The only thing I take credit for is trying to build a family. I know the guys on the pitching staff will have each other's back."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.