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Brewers dismiss bullpen coach amid relief woes

MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers have tried player moves and role changes to fix their struggling relief corps, to no avail, so on Monday they dismissed the bullpen coach.

General manager Doug Melvin removed Stan Kyles after 11 seasons in the organization, including four as bullpen coach, and promoted Lee Tunnell to the position. Tunnel, who had been the team's Minor League pitching coordinator, will join the team Tuesday.

The move came with the Brewers owning a 4.80 bullpen ERA, third worst in the Majors, and a day after Livan Hernandez, Francisco Rodriguez, John Axford and Jose Veras combined to surrender nine runs over the final five innings of Sunday's 11-inning, 11-10 loss to the Nationals.

"It is important that we make every effort to try to improve our bullpen performance," Melvin said. "While Stan is not solely responsible, I felt that this change was the first step and was necessary.

"Stan has been a loyal member of the Milwaukee Brewers organization for 11 years. His hard work and dedication has been an integral part of the Brewers' success and is greatly appreciated. His professionalism, personality and knowledge will be missed."

Tunnell is in his fourth season with the organization. Prior to his role as pitching coordinator, he spent three seasons with the Reds as interim bullpen coach (2006) and pro scout (2007-08). He also coached in the Rangers organization for nine seasons (1997-2005).

Brewers relievers are 15-26 with the most blown saves (20) in the Major Leagues. They rank 28th in ERA and 29th in opponents' batting average (.274).

"Inexplicable," former closer Axford said Sunday, after he twice saw two-run leads slip away. "It's tough to describe what's happening."

Kyles was summoned to Miller Park early Monday morning, where he met with Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash and was informed of the decision.

Kyles planned to return home to South Carolina for a few weeks of decompression. He will seek a Major League job during the offseason, but in their morning chat, Melvin left open the possibility for a return to the Brewers organization should Kyles request it.

"They had to do something," Kyles said. "It had gotten to the point where those [relievers], it's in their heads now that they're really scuffling with confidence. I completely understood Doug and Gord bringing me in. I have a feeling that this is not what they wanted to do. But it's something that they had to do, and I absolutely understand it.

"This has been home for me for the last almost four years, and 11 years in the organization, so I love these guys to death. It was tough for me to see those guys in the bullpen go through what they went through, with 'Ax' and 'Frankie,' the things they did last year, how proud I was of them last year. Really, I was proud of them this year, even though they went through the struggles that they did. They never pointed fingers, they never blamed anybody else for the struggles that they had. I have the utmost respect for them and I love them.

"I'm sure they're going to be fine, and I'm really hoping that they'll see this as an opportunity to bring some kind of closure to something. They get a chance to start over. We really have to salvage something, and I think we will. Those guys have too much ability to end the season the way it's gone thus far. I'm hoping this is just what they need. I'm sorry to not be able to see it through, to see them come out of this thing."

This bullpen is the team's worst since 2006, when 23 men threw in relief for Milwaukee to the tune of a 5.03 ERA. That group included the likes of Joe Winkelsas, who was working as a trash collector before giving baseball another shot, and Chris Demaria, Chris Mabeus and Allan Simpson. None of those players appeared in the Majors again.

When it was suggested that he was a scapegoat for the players' struggles, Kyles said, "Who's to say what's fair and not fair? You know, I never played in the big leagues, and the Brewers gave me an opportunity to be in the big leagues and I'm going to be indebted to them for the rest of my life for that. It was my dream to get here, and they gave me that opportunity."

Kyles also thanked the Brewers for their support through his cancer scare in 2010, when Kyles underwent prostate surgery early in the season and his was job waiting for him when he returned.

"It's been a great run for me and the Brewers," he said. "I just hope it finishes up well for them this year. I'll be rooting for them, for sure."

The big question was this: What happened this year to turn a bullpen that was a strength in the second half of 2011 into the team's biggest weakness in 2012?

Kyles pointed to the absence of veterans Takashi Saito and LaTroy Hawkins as one potential cause, but that does not explain the season-long struggles of Axford and Rodriguez, each of whom have held the closer's role and lost it.

"I don't know if we didn't prepare them as well or not. I think we did," Kyles said. "Me and Kranny [pitching coach Rick Kranitz] worked long hours trying to get these guys ready. But ultimately, it came down to we didn't make enough pitches when we had to. We just didn't make pitches. It came to the point where we were throwing the ball and hoping. Who's to say where it all went wrong?"

Milwaukee Brewers