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HEIM -- In the midst of head-scratching offensive struggles, the Angels announced Tuesday that they have dismissed hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, replacing him with Triple-A Salt Lake hitting coach Jim Eppard.
"This is unfortunately a situation where a message needs to be sent, and a philosophy needs to be instilled," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a phone interview. "Right now, we're struggling to do that, and we just felt like the voice needed to change."
The Angels expected to have more firepower offensively this season, with the signing of Albert Pujols and the return to health of Kendrys Morales. But they've been shut out a Major League-leading eight times and, heading into an eventual 4-0 victory over the A's on Tuesday, ranked 27th in the Majors in runs per game (3.61).
The struggles, as Dipoto pointed out, have been "pole-to-pole."
Pujols had three infield singles on Tuesday, but is still batting only .212 with just one homer. Erick Aybar, signed to a four-year extension in mid-April, has been removed from the leadoff spot and is hitting .187. Vernon Wells is showing no signs of rebounding from a disappointing 2011 campaign, batting just .242 with a .266 on-base percentage. And the Angels as a whole came into Tuesday ranked 13th in the American League in runs, 11th in OPS and 10th in batting average with runners in scoring position -- categories the division-rival Rangers lead in.
Hatcher, 57, was entering his 13th year as hitting coach under manager Mike Scioscia.
Under his direction, the 2009 group set franchise records in batting average, hits, runs and RBIs. But from 2010-11, the Angels ranked no better than ninth in the AL in runs. And this year, almost everything about the Angels' disappointing start -- 16-21 and seven games out of first place despite a $154 million payroll -- points to the offensive struggles.
"We think the world of Mickey Hatcher -- his work ethic, his enthusiasm for doing the job," Dipoto said. "But at a certain point, it becomes about the results on the field. Offensively, we're having a difficult time getting on base, we're having a difficult time hitting in situations, with runners in scoring position, etc., on down the line. We're all accountable. ... I'm included in that, Mike's included in that, obviously, Mickey's included in that, and this is a move that we're making in an attempt to jump-start an offense and to instill a philosophy that we believe has the power to last."
Hatcher spent 12 years in the big leagues and has a long history with Scioscia. He was a teammate of his with the Dodgers from 1987-90, served as his hitting coach while Scioscia managed their Triple-A affiliate in 1999 and came with him to Anaheim for the 2000 season.
Dipoto wouldn't go into detail about how the decision was made and what kind of input the Angels' skipper had in it. Scioscia wasn't available for comment because the move was announced after postgame clubhouse access.
Hatcher was a target of a large segment of Angels fans who were irate about the club's offensive struggles, but players constantly praised his work ethic.
"You will not find a harder working or more caring coach than Mickey Hatcher," Mark Trumbo posted on his Twitter account. "Always had my best interest at heart and brought great energy."
Eppard, 52, is in his 10th season with the Angels organization -- all of which have come with the Salt Lake Bees -- and previously spent eight seasons with the Colorado Rockies' Minor League system. Last year, the Bees tied for fifth in the Pacific Coast League in batting average.
Now, he'll get a long look as the Angels' hitting coach, with Dipoto saying he won't be surveying any outside candidates for the job.
"I'm not a big fan of the interim tag," Dipoto said. "I don't think that allows anybody the ability or autonomy to do their job. ... We believe in [Eppard], he's a part of the Angels family and he deserves the opportunity to sink his teeth into the job."
Hatcher was in the spotlight on April 30, when Pujols publicly took exception to him passing along a anecdote to a couple of reporters about a pregame meeting -- with Hatcher saying Pujols stood up and, in essence, told teammates he had been through struggles before and they shouldn't worry about him.
"Mickey should never tell you guys what we talk about in a meeting," Pujols said later that night. "I think that's something that's private."
But the two seemed to iron that out later, chalking it up to a non-issue, and Dipoto said friction with Pujols had nothing to do with the decision to let go of Hatcher.
There were plenty of others, though.
"This had everything to do with what had been essentially a pole-to-pole offensive struggle through this point," Dipoto said. "There's really no more of a soap-opera story than that. We haven't been scoring runs with consistency, putting together consistent at-bats, hitting in situations, and those are the things that will be measured offensively. That's why we're here today."