Diamondbacks hope shake-up sparks offense

Manny Ramirez’s(notes) suspension wasn’t the only seismic shock to hit the National League West on Thursday.

The Arizona Diamondbacks announced they’d fired Bob Melvin, who became the first manager dismissed in 2009, just 29 games into the season. The change in the dugout doesn’t end there. The club also fired hitting coach Rick Schu and pitching coach Bryan Price – one of Melvin’s closest confidantes – resigned.

A.J. Hinch, the team’s director of player development for the last three-plus seasons, will replace Melvin. It’s an unconventional choice: Hinch, a former Stanford star who caught for parts of seven seasons in the big leagues until his retirement in 2005, has no coaching or managing experience, having moved directly into the front office.

With Ramirez’s 50-game suspension suddenly making the division-leading Dodgers vulnerable, the Diamondbacks made a change before they fell too far out of contention, hoping it might jump start the majors’ weakest offense.

Melvin was bounced after a 4-3 loss to the Padres in San Diego. The Diamondbacks are 12-17 and 8½ games behind the division-leading Dodgers.

“Bob has done great things for this organization,” general manager Josh Byrnes said in a statement. “Having worked with him for nearly four years, I have a great deal of respect for his character and skills. This is a difficult decision, but I feel that our organization needs to move forward with a new voice. I am grateful for all the success and memories associated with Bob.”

Melvin was the National League Manager of the Year in 2007, when the Diamondbacks won the division title then swept the Chicago Cubs in the division series before falling to Colorado in the NLCS. Last season, they held a two-game lead on July 31, the day the Dodgers acquired Ramirez, increased their advantage to 4½ games nearly a month later and were in front as late as Sept. 6. But a late collapse and the Dodgers’ 19-8 finishing kick left Arizona two games behind L.A. at the end of the year.

This season, with expectations that the team’s core of young talent would continue to mature and challenge the Dodgers again, the Diamondbacks lost ace Brandon Webb(notes) to a sore shoulder that is expected to keep him out until early June, and the club stopped hitting.

The Diamondbacks began the day with the major leagues’ worst batting average, .225 – their ghastly on-base percentage of .297 was the only one in the majors worse than .300 – and ranked 15th in the NL in runs, ahead of only the Giants. Three regulars – Chris Snyder(notes), Conor Jackson(notes) and Chris Young – entered the day hitting worse than .200, as were veterans Eric Byrnes(notes) and Tony Clark(notes). Superstar-in-waiting Stephen Drew(notes), who has spent time on the disabled list with a strained hamstring, was batting just .205.

Arizona began a lineup shakeup Wednesday night, when they summoned first baseman Josh Whitesell(notes) from the minors and benched veteran Chad Tracy(notes) (.224). Clark went on the DL, and center fielder Young also was benched. Of the kids, only outfielder Justin Upton(notes) has hit, and that was after a 0 for 15 start had the Diamondbacks thinking of optioning him to the minors.

Team president Derrick Hall, in a radio interview Thursday morning, called the team’s play “unacceptable,” and earlier in the week Byrnes declined to endorse Melvin.

Melvin, 47, was in his fifth season as Arizona manager after managing Seattle in 2003 and 2004. Bob Brenly, who had managed the Diamondbacks to a World Series title in 2001, was fired midseason in 2004. The team’s original choice as Brenly’s permanent replacement was former Mets second baseman Wally Backman, but that offer was rescinded because of Backman’s legal and financial problems.

Gordon Edes is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Send Gordon a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, May 8, 2009