Pirates hire Jay Bell as hitting coach

Rob Biertempfel
| Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, 12:24 p.m.

Hoping to rejuvenate their offense in 2013, the Pirates turned to a player from the franchise's glory days of the early 1990s.

Jay Bell, the starting shortstop on the Pirates' playoff teams in 1990-92, was hired Wednesday as hitting coach. Bell takes over for Gregg Ritchie, who left to become head coach at George Washington University.

“Pittsburgh is starved for a team that can get back to those glory days,” Bell said. “It's just a matter of time before it happens. It should be a great challenge for me. It's definitely a great opportunity for me to get back to a city that I loved playing in.”

The Pirates made two other staff moves Wednesday, hiring Rick Sofield as first base coach and naming Dave Jauss major league coach.

Sofield replaces Luis Silverio, who was reassigned as senior advisor for Latin American operations. Last year, Sofield managed the Pirates' Low-A West Virginia affiliate.

Jauss has worked the past 25 years in pro ball. Last season, when he was a special assistant to the general manager, was his first with the Pirates. Mark Strittmatter, who has been the club's major league coach since 2010, remains on manager Clint Hurdle's staff.

Bell, 46, played for the Pirates from 1989 to 1996 and batted .269 with 78 homers and 423 RBI. He hit .282 in 20 career postseason games with the Pirates, holds the franchise record for sacrifice bunts in a season (39 in 1990) and won the Silver Slugger Award in 1993.

“He brings a ton of positives,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “He has experience as a player and bench coach. He brings a great approach the mentality and the plan of hitting, as well as a solid mechanical foundation.”

Bell spoke Wednesday by phone from New Zealand, where he is bench coach for the New Zealand's team in the World Baseball Classic. He stopped in Pittsburgh last week for a three-hour job interview with Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle.

“It's been a whirlwind trip for me over the past 10 days,” Bell said. “But taking the Pirates' job was a no-brainer. It was an easy choice.”

Bell will return to Pittsburgh to start his new job after New Zealand plays its WBC qualifying games Nov. 15-18.

Barajas' option declined

As expected, the Pirates chose not to exercise the $3.5 million contract option for catcher Rod Barajas, which makes him a free agent. The club did pick up third baseman Pedro Alvarez's $700,000 option for 2013. Also, reliever Hasanori Takahashi was unconditionally released.

Barajas, 37, last season batted .206 with a .625 OPS. He threw out only six of 93 base stealers. The Pirates could try to re-sign Barajas at a lower salary.

“We've told Rod we will stay engaged with him as we go through the offseason and explore (how to) fill our catching needs, whether it be through free agency or a trade,” Huntington said.

Is Huntington comfortable with Michael McKenry potentially being the Pirates' No. 1 catcher on Opening Day? “We're comfortable with Michael being part of our catching tandem,” Huntington said.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or 412-320-7811.

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