Pirates fire Joe Kerrigan, Gary Varsho

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Pirates fired pitching coach Joe Kerrigan and bench coach Gary Varsho on Sunday, saying they are no longer right for the staff.

The firings came as the last-place Pirates close in on a record-extending 18th consecutive losing season.

Kerrigan is a former Red Sox, Phillies and Expos pitching coach. He was replaced by his assistant, former major league pitcher Ray Searage. Varsho, a former outfielder with the Pirates, Phillies, Reds and Cubs, was replaced by minor league field coordinator Jeff Banister.

Manager John Russell said it was a "gut-wrenching decision" to let go two men he respects greatly, but that it was necessary for the Pirates to accomplish something this year before heading into next season.

"There were some issues I've been working through for some time now that could not be resolved in a way that would be for the betterment of this team and this organization," Russell said. "I lost two friends today; that's tough to deal with. But my main focus -- and what will always be my main focus -- is this team and this organization."

General manager Neal Huntington said Russell made him aware of the issues, "and I support the decision."

While the Pirates' bullpen has been the team's strength most of the season, the starting pitching has regressed. Huntington recently was critical of changes made to top prospect Brad Lincoln's mechanics while in the majors that led to a drop in velocity and a return to the minors. Lincoln was 1-4 with a 6.57 ERA in nine games with Pittsburgh.

The Pirates also allowed Charlie Morton (1-9, 9.35 ERA in 10 games) to struggle for weeks before sending him back to the minors. Ross Ohlendorf (1-9, 4.23) has been a disappointment after going 11-10 last season and left-hander Zach Duke (5-10, 5.32) has given up 142 hits in 108 1-3 innings.

"Joe Kerrigan taught me a lot," Searage said, "and I hope to take a little from Joe, a little from myself and a little from the pitcher and try to make a good gameplan for them to give them a better chance to succeed out there."

Reliever Evan Meek, the team's lone All-Star, said he has enjoyed working with Searage in the bullpen.

"He definitely cares about his players," Meek said. "He just has a high energy, but it's a positive energy. He loves baseball, he has experience -- he's played in the big leagues, so he knows how to prepare and what to look for and what to say and what not to say. I'm definitely excited for him."

Going into Sunday's game with Colorado, Pirates starters were 21-58 with a 5.38 ERA.

Despite winning two of the first three games of the four-game series against Colorado, the Pirates have lost 19 of 28. They have been at least 30 games below .500 every day since July 30.

Banister will join the club Monday when it arrives in San Diego to begin a six-game road trip.