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Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Struggling Astros part ways with hitting coach Gaetti

Associated Press

HOUSTON -- The Houston Astros shook up their slumping offense Wednesday night by firing hitting coach Gary Gaetti.

The Astros have the second-worst batting average in the National League and their run total (408) ranks 23rd in the majors.

Earlier Wednesday, the Astros acquired Aubrey Huff from Tampa Bay, but general manager Tim Purpura said he, manager Phil Garner and owner Drayton McLane decided more changes were needed.

"We wanted to make sure no stone was left unturned as far as making sure the players have what they need to succeed," Purpura said.

The Astros promoted minor league hitting coordinator Sean Berry to replace Gaetti. Purpura said Berry would be the hitting coach for the rest of this season, then be evaluated at the end.

"He brings a real fresh approach," Purpura said. "He's very computer literate, very conversational with the hitters and has a real plan for hitting we hope to implement."

Gaetti had been with the Astros since 2004. He began his coaching career in the Houston organization in 2002 as a coach for Triple-A New Orleans.

Berry will take over for Gaetti on Thursday in Miami, where the Astros open a four-game series with Florida.

"This does not at all absolve the players of their responsibilities," Garner said. "We've got to get on track. We're looking forward to see how the players respond."

The Astros and San Diego have the second-worst slugging percentages in the NL, ahead of only the Chicago Cubs. Garner said he's looking for "tougher at-bats" from his team in the second half.

"At times, we've had some very tough at-bats," he said. "Too many times, our time of possession (on offense) is too short. We need to have longer innings and put more pressure on the opposition. That's what I expect going forward."

Berry played for the Astros from 1996-98, batting .283 with 39 home runs and 190 RBI. He concluded his playing career with parts of two seasons in Milwaukee (1999-2000) and Boston (2000).

The Astros are 43-46, six games behind St. Louis in the NL Central. Though the bullpen has struggled and cost Houston several games, Purpura said no more coaching changes were imminent.

"The No. 1 issue," he said, "is to get the offense purring again."