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Pirates, defensive guru Hill parting ways

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009

Perry Hill won't be back with the Pirates next season — and he may not be coaching anywhere in the major leagues.

The Pirates announced Saturday that Hill, the renowned first base coach and infield instructor, won't be returning for a second season. General manager Neal Huntington also said the team has exercised Hill's contract option for 2010, which would prohibit him from coaching elsewhere next year without the Pirates' permission. Hill, though, will not be paid if he is not working for the Pirates.

"We exercised the option to protect our club's interest," Huntington said.

The Pirates also promoted Triple-A pitching coach Ray Searage to the major-league staff yesterday in an unrelated staff move.

Huntington said Hill was offered a job within the organization as a consultant and that he hasn't received an answer on that proposal.

"The Pirates made their statement. It was time for me to go. I won't be back with the Pirates next year," Hill said.

Hill's departure wasn't unexpected. He wasn't happy the infield was overhauled during the season, with three of the four starters being traded: shortstop Jack Wilson (Seattle), second baseman Freddy Sanchez (San Francisco) and first baseman Adam LaRoche (Boston).

Huntington said he "aggressively" tried to retain Hill, picking up the option year and "offering to restructure and extend his contract."

"Perry told us it was time for him to go home," Huntington said. "He said it wasn't about the money. He just really wanted to go home and be with his family."

Hill, 57, has spent 15 seasons coaching in the majors and 25 in professional baseball. He is considered one of the top infield instructors in the game. The Pirates finished the season with the best fielding percentage and fewest errors in the major leagues.

Huntington said he already has started interviewing candidates to replace Hill. One candidate is Tony Beasley, the Pirates' third base coach.

Searage, 54, will fill the coaching vacancy created when Rich Donnelly was let go at the end of the season. Searage, however, was hired to provide an emphasis on pitching.

"Ray is a quality, experienced coach who has had a positive impact on our pitchers already," Huntington said.

Searage was in Venezuela yesterday and unavailable for comment.

Searage has spent seven years in the Pirates' system and has 32 years of pro baseball experience, including seven as a major-league pitcher. He will work alongside pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, but Huntington said Searage isn't necessarily being groomed as Kerrigan's successor. Kerrigan has agreed to spend one more season on manager John Russell's staff.

"We would have made this move regardless (of Kerrigan's status)," Huntington said. "I don't want this to come across as Ray is the pitching coach in waiting. There are no guarantees here. Ray has to do a great job, which we think he will, and the timing has to work."

Kerrigan will mentor Searage, who is expected to work with the relief pitchers so Kerrigan can focus on the starting rotation.

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