PHOENIX -- A.J. Hinch, the former vice president who moved up in the D-backs' administration, wasn't the only rookie in Arizona's dugout on Friday night. As part of the team's shakeup, Jack Howell replaced Rick Schu as batting coach, and Mel Stottlemyre Jr. took over for pitching coach Bryan Price. Neither has been in the Major Leagues in any capacity since their playing careers ended, Howell's in 1999 and that of Stottlemyre, who spent most of it pitching in the Minors, in 1990.
"I'd occasionally join the team here for a few days and be allowed to sit in the dugout," said Howell, formerly part of the club's Minor League staff. "But this is the real deal. I'm thankful for this opportunity." Both spent a whirlwind first afternoon in their new jobs, Howell glued to the cage watching his new charges take batting practice, Stottlemyre in a round of meetings with relievers and Friday's starter, Yusmeiro Petit. Stottlemyre, while well known by the staff through being around him during Spring Training, may have a tougher period of adjustment in replacing Price, who resigned out of loyalty to dismissed manager Bob Melvin. "It is a little difficult," left-hander Doug Davis said of switching pitching coaches midseason. "B.P. knew me well. If I struggled, he knew how to get me back to where I needed to be. He knew what I had to do to be a successful pitcher. "But Stott will get to know us. I talked with B.P. about him, and he held him in the highest regard. He likes him as a friend and as a colleague." Howell and Stottlemyre are both in their eighth season in the D-backs organization, their tenures spent on the Minor League level. For the last five seasons, Howell has been the franchise's Minor League field coordinator, while Stottlemyre was a month into his third season as Minor League pitching coordinator. Both mirror Hinch with modest playing careers. Stottlemyre couldn't approach fulfilling the destiny suggested by being Houston's first-round pick in the 1985 First-Year Player Draft, the No. 3 overall pick. His only Major League exposure was with the 1990 Royals, for whom he was 0-1 with a 4.88 ERA in 13 games, two of them starts. Howell at least had flashes of prominence with the California Angels, with whom he spent 8 1/2 of his 11 big league seasons. Primarily a third baseman, he had highs of 23 homers and 64 RBIs in 1987. His Major League career ended with 108 home runs and 337 RBIs, along with a .239 average -- not counting the four seasons he spent playing in Japan from 1992-95. Oddly, Howell has more managerial experience than his new boss (who has none). He managed rookie-level Missoula to a 35-41 record in 2002. Howell appears to have his work cut out for him with the D-backs, who rank last in the Majors with their .225 batting average. First impressions are that Hinch will have a challenge playing his preferred style with the D-backs. His self-described "aggressive" approach depends on balls being put consistently in play -- which has not been a specialty of the over-swinging club. "I like to hit-and-run, put pressure on the defense," Hinch said. "I'm an aggressive guy but, although I'll take risks, not reckless. You have to respond to the strengths and weaknesses of the club." Last season, Arizona struck out a club-record 1,287 times. Again, the D-backs began play on Friday night tied with the Brewers for second in the National League with 231 strikeouts in 29 games. Milwaukee, however, had scored 36 more runs than Arizona's 105, also next-to-last in the 16-team league. "It's not about fixing things," Howell said. "I'll start slow and do anything I can to help these players reach their potential. I'll try to prepare them for any situation. As a Minor League coordinator, my style was always to help people become complete players. That'll continue to be the approach here."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.