Gaetti relieved of duties by Astros

Gaetti relieved of duties by Astros

HOUSTON -- Tim Purpura sent two very powerful messages to Astros' hitters on Wednesday, and judging from the weight of both transactions, the general manager is not amused by what has taken place on the field this season.

The shakeup started in the morning, when Aubrey Huff came over from Tampa Bay and Jason Lane was sent down to the Minor Leagues. The chips continued to fall later that evening, when Purpura announced that hitting coach Gary Gaetti was let go and replaced on an interim basis by Minor League hitting coordinator Sean Berry.

The reason for Gaetti's dismissal was simple -- the offense, with the exception of that nice 19-9 run to start the season, has been largely non-existent. The Astros, the reigning National League champions, have one of the lowest batting averages in the league and are near the bottom in almost every offensive category.

Most of the non-production, of course, falls on the players' shoulders. But as the old saying goes, you can't fire the players -- although Lane and Morgan Ensberg received pink slips in the form of a Minor League assigment and reduced playing time, respectively.

Still, it's easier to dismiss coaches. Gaetti, who was in his fifth year with the Astros, took the fall.

Gaetti was notified of the decision by Purpura and manager Phil Garner soon after he arrived to Florida from the All-Star Game in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Purpura and Garner met with Gaetti around 6:30 p.m.

"Gary was extremely professional in our meeting," Purpura said. "He wished us well. We offered [him] an opportunity to stay in the organization in the future, and hopefully he will stay on board with us as we move forward."

But there are more pressing issues to address. Garner watched with mounting frustration as the hitters went from producing mightily in April to looking relatively lost at the plate in May, June and the first half of July.

Have better approaches, Garner preached. Have tougher at-bats. The hitters took that advice and moved backward. And there were very few signs that they were nearing an end to their collective funk.

"We have to get the offense on a more consistent track," Garner said. "We are looking to try to get them to see the seriousness of what we're trying to accomplish here."

Astros owner Drayton McLane gives his staff the same marching orders before Spring Training every year: Get to the World Series and win it.

So there will be no "We'll get 'em next year" attitudes -- at least not yet. The Astros are three games under .500 and six games behind the Cardinals in the division, and McLane, Purpura and Garner have sent a clear message: Shape up.

"After getting the deal done for Huff, we thought it would make a strong statement," Purpura said. "How do we drive it home with our hitters? We can't wait for Aubrey Huff to just come in and save the day. We need to make a change here, and put players on notice that there is expectation here. We want a fresh perspecitve, a changing of the guard."

Gaetti began his Astros career as the Triple-A hitting coach in 2002. He mentored plenty of current Houston hitters, including shortstop Adam Everett, who has had his share of struggles this year.

Purpura commended Gaetti on his exemplary work with several players, and acknowledged there is that unknown factor in terms of how Gaetti's dismissal will effect players that thrived on Gaetti's watch.

"I think Gary's been terrific with Mike Lamb," Purpura said. "He's helped Mike Lamb a lot. You worry about that."

The team's overall misforunes by no means fall entirely on Gaetti. The bullpen has cost the team plenty of wins, too. And the baserunning mistakes in front of a national ESPN audience last Sunday, the last game before the All-Star break, were unacceptable.

It's hard to say if Lane tripping on his way to third base, or Roy Oswalt missing first base after hitting a double down the line, or Eric Munson being picked off first in a crucial run-scoring opportunity jolted Purpura to follow through with changes that he had been pondering.

But it's safe to assume the club's discouraging three losses to the Cardinals -- two of which they were in position to win -- heading into the All-Star break may have sped up the process, just a bit.

The decision to fire Gaetti, according to Purpura, didn't arrive until the end of the weekend.

"This was a very difficult situation for us, for Phil and I," Purpura said. "We have to get the offense on track. We wanted to make sure every stone was not left unturned, make sure every player had a chance to succeed.

"We need a fresh perspective, a new point of view."

Enter Berry, one of the original Killer B's. Berry hit .283 with 39 home runs and 190 RBIs during three seasons at third base for the Astros from 1996-98 and helped the Astros win division titles in '97 and '98. Berry posted his best season with Houston in 1996, when he hit .281 with 17 home runs and 95 RBIs.

Berry will finish the year with the Astros and will be evaluated upon the season's conclusion. Purpura does not anticipate making any more coaching changes in the immediate future, although lately, everyone has come under scruninty.

"The issue right now is the offense, how to get the offense purring again," Purpura said.

Alyson Footer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.