The Cardinals acted swiftly Friday to fill the vacancy created by Dave Duncan's leave from the club, naming Derek Lilliquist as Duncan's successor as pitching coach and longtime minor-league pitching coordinator Dyar Miller to replace Lilliquist as bullpen coach.
The moves were announced less than 24 hours after the club acknowledged that Duncan would take an indefinite leave for personal reasons related to his wife Jeanine's battle against cancer.
The club described Duncan's leave as open-ended within a statement issued Thursday night. Following today's announcement, general manager John Mozeliak acknowledged that Duncan will not serve as pitching coach for the entirety of the upcoming season.
Duncan described his decision as not quite a clean break but a decided move away from in any way becoming "a distraction" to the team's immediate future.
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"I think the decision kind of made itself," Duncan said Friday.
As for Duncan's possible relationship with the club beyond this season, Mozeliak said, "Time will tell. We're not closing the door to anything."
Duncan said he does not plan on passing through Jupiter, Fla., during spring training and said any remaining connection to the club will be long distance.
"I just want to know if they have a desire to call me they should feel completely comfortable doing it. But I don't want to interrupt anything they're doing. I want it to be something they invite," Duncan said.
Duncan notified Mozeliak of his decision to step aside earlier this week and the club has agreed to assume Duncan's salary as pitching coach. The 2012 season represented the second installment of a two-year contract that also included an option for 2013.
Mozeliak indicated that Duncan's decision did not come as a surprise. Shortly after manager Tony La Russa's decision to retire, Duncan made clear to Mozeliak that he was willing to return only if allowances could be made for him to care for his wife, who was diagnosed with a brain malignancy last August. The club readily agreed, but Duncan recently became convinced that he could not fully commit to both his professional duties and serving as Jeanine's primary care-giver, a role he did not wish to delegate.
"I just know how he viewed his family," Mozeliak said. "When you think about all the sacrifices spouses have to make in this business, it did seem this was going to be the natural decision."
Mozeliak met with manager Mike Matheny Friday before the club issued its announcement. Given Duncan's leave of absence last summer, Mozeliak acknowledged he had prepared contingencies. "I've always had it in the back of my mind," he said.
"I think anybody in my position would love to have the experience and time spent with Dave Duncan as his pitching coach," said Matheny. "But I completely get it. I told Dunc' before, 'Let us know how we can support you in any way and that if I was in your situation I would like to think I would have done the same as well.'"
Then the team's first-year bullpen coach, Lilliquist, 45, took over for Duncan on an interim basis last August when Jeanine's condition was first diagnosed. Duncan returned to uniform for the final game of the regular season then remained in the dugout for the team's 18-game postseason run to the World Series title.
Cardinals pitching coach since October 1995, Duncan becomes the third iconic figure to leave the clubhouse in the last three months, following La Russa's retirement and first baseman Albert Pujols' decision to depart via free agency for the Los Angeles Angels.
"Obviously, when you look at iconic figures like Tony and Dave, the approach isn't about how to replace them, but how can we best proceed and still have success," Mozeliak said. "Based on a veteran pitching staff and someone like Derek Lilliquist who last year had the opportunity to receive exposure to these pitchers, we believe we're in a good position. I don't look at the transition as seamless, but it's certainly workable."
"There's no question there's been change. And after a team finished like they did, I'm sure nobody was looking for change," Matheny said. "It's a cliche, but with change comes opportunity. There was an opportunity that put me in this position and an opportunity that has promoted Derek Lilliquist as pitching coach. I just don't get too caught up in it. New things arise all the time and I don't think it will ever stop."
Lilliquist has remained with the organization since 2002, most notably as pitching coordinator at the club's rehab headquarters in Jupiter, Fla. Lilliquist has longstanding familiarity with a heavy majority of the current pitching staff and is often credited as a major influence on lefthander Jaime Garcia, among others.
Miller, 65, is the longest-serving member of the organization, having coached at Double-A in 1985-86, then returning 1995. He served as a coach with the Chicago White Sox for two years in the interim.
The Cardinals gave strong consideration to Miller before hiring Lilliquist in October 2010 to succeed ousted bullpen coach Marty Mason.
"He knows these pitchers. He's worked with them at different levels," Mozeliak said about Miller. "This is both an opportunity and a reward for what he's done."
The Cardinals delegated Miller's previous duties as minor league pitching coordinator to Brent Strom, an instructor at the organization's lower classifications since 2008.
The club also announced the hiring of former minor-league catcher Jeff Pogue to replace Jeff Murphy as bullpen catcher.