M’s switch 3B coaches as Stearns steps down

After dealing with a tough recovery from hiatal hernia surgery for the past two weeks, Mariners third base coach John Stearns announced he’s stepping down from that position Friday and will be replaced for the upcoming season by Triple-A Tacoma manager Rich Donnelly.

Stearns, 62, said he isn’t close to being ready to resume baseball activities and felt it wouldn’t be fair to the team to disrupt the start of their season by forcing a change in the third-base coaching position at a later date.

Stearns will be reassigned to a pro scouting position once he returns, general manager Jack Zduriencik said. Zduriencik indicated the team will name its new Tacoma manager in several days.

Stearns, a four-time National League All-Star catcher during his playing days with the Phillies and Mets, has been in the Mariners organization the past two years. Stearns originally was hired by the Mariners to work in their pro scouting department and was the Minor League catching coordinator in 2012 and the first part of last season before working briefly as the Mariners third base coach and then taking over as Tacoma’s manager in May.

“It kills me because the thing we all want to do in this business is be in the big leagues,” Stearns said. “I’ve got 20-some years in the big leagues and about 20 in the Minors. I want to come back at my age and have another shot, but I didn’t want to do it at the expense of the players and the organization. I think I can get healthy, but it’s going to be later on.”

“The continuity issue here is the major factor,” Zduriencik said. “We all feel bad for John. It’s tough on him to do this, but it’s his decision. He came forward and said he just didn’t think it was the right thing.”

Donnelly, 67, is a veteran of 27 years as a Major League coach, including 14 as a third base coach. He coached third base for the Pirates from 1993-95, the Marlins from 1997-98, the Rockies from 1999-2002, the Brewers from 2003-05 and the Dodgers in 2006-07.

“As we move forward, the most important thing is making sure John gets healthy and can be productive again,” said manager Lloyd McClendon, who has long histories with both Stearns and Donnelly.

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