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Pirates extend coaching staff through 2017

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates have announced that they've extended their entire coaching staff through 2017.  That would include:

Dave Jauss - bench
Ray Searage - pitching
Jeff Branson - hitting
Nick Leyva - 1B
Rick Sofield - 3B
Jeff Livesey - assistant hitting
Euclides Rojas - bullpen
Brad Fischer - major league coach
Heberto Andrade - bullpen catcher

The move obviously will come as something as a relief in the case of Searage, who's gotten a great deal of credit for the Pirates' pattern in recent years of turning around struggling veteran pitchers like A.J. Burnett, Mark Melancon, Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez.  Concerns about Searage's continued employment in Pittsburgh escalated when front office pitching guru Jim Benedict left for a job with the Marlins.

Branson's extension, however, might be just as significant.  He's been the hitting coach since 2014.  Despite a ballpark that's become one of the stronger pitchers parks in MLB, the Pirates finished fourth in the NL in runs in 2014 and 2015.  So far in 2016 -- in an admittedly tiny sample size -- they're third behind the Cubs and Cards, both of which are scoring at an unsustainable rate of well over six runs per game.  The Pirates are a close second behind the Cards in OPS+, which is park-adjusted, and are first by a wide margin in OBP.  Hitters like Sean Rodriguez and Jordy Mercer have seen sharp increases in their walk rates (although Rodriguez is whiffing in over a third of his at-bats).  Best of all, Gregory Polanco now has 16 walks against 12 strikeouts.