Former New York Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland, now a member of divisional rival Tampa Bay, said he was blindsided by the ax that fell on him a few days after the team was knocked out of the American League Championship Series by the Texas Rangers.
He also said the pitching staff the Yankees are taking into the 2011 season is "maybe a little bit weaker" than the one he left behind.
"I was pretty shocked," Eiland said during a Thursday morning interview on 1050 ESPN radio regarding his firing. "The last conversation [manager] Joe Girardi and I had was after we got eliminated in Texas. He said, 'Go home and enjoy your time off because before you know it, you're going to be making that spring training schedule again.
"Then I got the call from [general manger] Brian Cashman and all bets were off. So that chapter's closed."
To which Cashman responded: "He knows why. He was given conditions that needed to be followed. So he knows why."
Cashman was alluding to the month-long leave of absence for "personal reasons" that took Eiland away from the team in June and coincided with the decline of pitcher A.J. Burnett, who went 4-12 after Eiland left the team June 5.
The reason for Eiland's absence was never explained, although Cashman made it clear when he announced Eiland's firing that it was for "private and personal" reasons.
Eiland was not asked about the matter during the interview, conducted by Ryan Ruocco and Robin Lundberg, and said he held no ill feelings toward the Yankees.
"Absolutely not," said Eiland, who will serve as a special assistant for the Rays, for whom he pitched from 1998 to 2000. "There's no bad blood, no hard feelings, no animosity at all. I don't necessarily agree with the decision they made, but I respect it. There's a lot of great people there. I wish them the best, but when we go up against those guys I'm gonna give everything I have to beat them."
Still, Eiland was mildly critical of the organization for which he served as pitching coach for three seasons. He said he was surprised at the way the Derek Jeter negotiations were handled ("In major league baseball, loyalty only goes so far"); believes the Yankees will miss Kerry Wood ("If it wasn't for him, we may not have made the playoffs"); and hinted that it was a mistake to leave Burnett in to pitch to Bengie Molina in the sixth inning of Game 4 of the ALCS.
Molina homered to give the Rangers a 5-3 lead; they would go on to win the series in six games.
"I just wish we had gotten him out of the game before he gave up that home run to Molina, but that's a whole other story," he said, without revealing whose decision it was to leave in Burnett.
Eiland said he had been looking forward to working with Burnett this winter and expressed confidence that he would bounce back from his abysmal 10-15 season.
"The ability is there," Eiland said. "A.J.'s hungry, A.J.'s a competitor, A.J. wants to win as bad as anyone. Nobody feels worse about last year than he does.
"He's gonna make some mechanical adjustments, I know, with [new pitching coach] Larry Rothschild, and as long as he stays healthy, I think he's gonna have a great year, I really do."
If he doesn't?
"Some guys are going to have to step up," Eiland said. "Can Phil Hughes repeat his 18-win season? Can Ivan Nova or Sergio Mitre step into that fourth or fifth spot? There's a lot of questions. They got a bit of work to do if they want to catch up to Boston's starting staff or match up with the Rays' starting staff as well.
"They didn't get the big fish they wanted in Cliff Lee, but obviously, the Yankees have the resources to get what they need when they need it. I'm sure Brian Cashman and his staff will do what they have to do."