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Pirates

Pirates fire hitting coaches Jeff Branson, Jeff Livesey

Jerry DiPaola
| Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, 5:12 p.m.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle and hitting coach Jeff Branson congratulate Adam Frazier after defeating the Reds Monday, Sept. 3, 2018, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle and hitting coach Jeff Branson congratulate Adam Frazier after defeating the Reds Monday, Sept. 3, 2018, at PNC Park.

The off-season began with an unwelcome thud for Pittsburgh Pirates hitting coach Jeff Branson and his assistant Jeff Livesey. Both were fired Monday, a day after the end of the season. They had been in their current positions with the Pirates since 2014.

The Pirates improved in several offensive categories this season, most notably bumping the batting average from .244 in 2017 to .254 this season, 11th best in the majors and fifth in the National League. They also were eighth and fifth in doubles (290) and triples (38). The 290 doubles mark the team’s second-best total in 10 years.

But while home runs increased from 151 to 157 — and catchers Francisco Cervelli (12) and Elias Diaz (10) reached double digits — the Pirates still ranked 25th in MLB and first baseman Josh Bell’s total fell from 26 to 12. Also, home run leader Gregory Polanco (23) missed the last 20 games of the season after suffering shoulder and knee injuries while sliding into second base Sept. 7.

While striking only 1,229 times, the fourth-fewest total in the majors, the Pirates were 22nd with only 474 walks (fewer than three per game). The Pirates had the National League’s fourth-best on-base percentage (.326) from 2014-2017, but it fell to .317 this season.

“We appreciate all of the time, energy and effort that Jeff and Jeff put into the team,” general manager Neal Huntington said in a statement. “Both are high-character, hard-working, good baseball men. We felt that this was the right time to take our Major League hitting program in a different direction.”

He offered no further details, but the club announced that no additional changes to the Major League coaching staff are expected.

Branson and Livesey were signed through 2019.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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