Last-place Red Sox fire pitching coach Juan Nieves

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BOSTON (AP) — The Boston Red Sox moved to try to improve the worst pitching staff in the American League when they fired pitching coach Juan Nieves on Thursday.

General manager Ben Cherington made the announcement and said another move involving reliever Edward Mujica was expected Friday when the Red Sox start a three-game series at Toronto.

No replacement for Nieves was named, but Cherington said he had a small list of prospects that included at least one person from inside the organization and at least one from outside.

Cherington said he and manager John Farrell felt the team needed to "have a different voice in that particular position."

In his first season as a major league pitching coach in 2013, Nieves guided a staff that had a 3.79 ERA and a team-record 1,294 strikeouts and helped the Red Sox win the World Series. It faltered last season when the Red Sox finished in last place in the AL East.

This year, the Red Sox have a 4.86 ERA and its starters are at 5.54. Both are the worst in the AL and next to last in the majors, trailing only Colorado, according to STATS.

Nieves' "ability to maintain the consistency or affect change when needed or adjustments that are required that's typical with any pitcher, that wasn't the same" as it was two years ago, Farrell said.

A pitching coach's job involves finding relevant information, communicating it to his players and making in-game adjustments. Farrell said. Nieves apparently didn't have that same connection with this year's starters as he did with those the past two years.

Last season's rotation at the start of the season was Jon Lester, John Lackey, Felix Doubront, Jake Peavy and Clay Buchholz. The only pitcher who has been in the rotation in each of Nieves' three seasons is Buchholz.

Joe Kelly was acquired from St. Louis last July 31. In the offseason, the Red Sox added three starters — Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson and Wade Miley.

Cherington gave his current starters a vote of confidence even though they've pitched at least six innings in only 15 of the team's 29 games.

"We believe in the guys who are on this team, and we believe that we're going to start to play better," he said. "I'm sure that over the course of our season, the rest of our season, there will be a time where some adjustments may be made, but right now we're behind the guys that we have."

The Red Sox were off Thursday after losing to Tampa Bay 5-3, their fifth loss in six games. Masterson lasted just 4 1-3 innings, allowing four runs on seven hits with six walks and one strikeout.

Farrell said the focus is on getting the starters to improve since they pitch most of the innings.

"There's a long list of things that can affect pitching performance, starting with the pitchers themselves," Cherington said. "Pitching coach is just one piece of it."

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