PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates found their hitting coach on Friday, hiring Rick Eckstein to join manager Clint Hurdle's coaching staff.Eckstein, 45, brings a blend of experience to Pittsburgh. He spent the last two years as the Twins' Minor League hitting coordinator after serving as an assistant coach at the University
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates found their hitting coach on Friday, hiring Rick Eckstein to join manager Clint Hurdle's coaching staff.
Eckstein, 45, brings a blend of experience to Pittsburgh. He spent the last two years as the Twins' Minor League hitting coordinator after serving as an assistant coach at the University of Kentucky from 2015-16. Eckstein was the Nationals' hitting coach from 2009-13, when he was let go amid a midseason slump. In '14, Eckstein served as a liaison between the Angels' front office and players as a "player information coach," a job in which he also acted as an assistant hitting coach and advanced scout.
"Rick Eckstein brings experience, knowledge and a relentless drive to combine old-school thought and new-school concepts to help our Major League team," general manager Neal Huntington said in a statement. "His ability to impact each player's approach and skill-set will aid in our ability to create runs and maximize our performance as a team. The various roles Rick has held have prepared him to implement an individualized mental, physical and fundamental program to benefit our Major League team and our organization."
Eckstein, the older brother of 2006 World Series MVP David Eckstein, was a Minor League hitting coach for the Expos in 2004-05. He was the Nats' Triple-A hitting coach in '06 and '08 and spent '07 with the Cardinals' Triple-A team.
When the Nationals dismissed Eckstein in July 2013, then-manager Davey Johnson called the move "a shocker" and described it as "arguably the toughest day I've had in baseball." Before informing Eckstein that he'd been let go, Johnson asked GM Mike Rizzo to relieve him of his duties instead.
Eckstein will replace former hitting coach Jeff Branson, who was dismissed on Oct. 1 along with assistant hitting coach Jeff Livesey.
The Pirates ranked 20th in the Majors in runs (692, 4.3 per game) and 25th in home runs (157) last season. Their .407 slugging percentage was 16th in the Majors, and their .725 OPS ranked 17th. Their greater issue was inconsistency, as nearly every Pirates hitter went through at least one significant, extended slump.
When asked how the Pirates can shorten those slumps next season, Huntington talked about improving their hitters' game planning and preparing each hitter on an individual basis -- a task that will in large part fall to Eckstein.
"Standard stuff," Huntington said in September, "but incremental gains in a lot of different areas will make us a better team next year."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.