Astros fire Mills, name DeFrancesco interim manager

Astros fire skipper Brad Mills and 2 of his assistants

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Brad Mills (manager)

HOUSTON - Just hours after firing manager Brad Mills, the Houston Astros have named Tony DeFrancesco their interim manager for the remainder of the 2012 season.   

The club also named Dan Radison as the team's first base coach and Ty Van Burkleo as their hitting coach.

"The goal is to find the best staff we an possibly assemble to take us to the next level," said Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow.  "We want to move forward and win as many games as we can the rest of this year and put ourselves in a position to have a successful 2013 and beyond."

DeFrancesco joins the club from Triple A Oklahoma City, where he's managed the RedHawks since 2011. 

This season, DeFrancesco has led the RedHawks, who are in contention for a playoff spot, to a 67-60 record. 

The 2012 season was DeFrancesco's 17th as a minor league manager and is his 26th season as a player, coach or manager in professional baseball.

The Astros announced Mills' firing in an email almost two hours after Houston lost 12-4 to the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Mills was in his third season running the Astros, who have the worst record in the major leagues at 39-82.   The club also fired hitting coach Mike Barnett and first base coach Bobby Meacham. 

Mills became the first big league manager to be fired this season. He was 76-86 in his first season with Houston and a franchise-worst 56-106 last year. He took over for Cecil Cooper, who was also fired during the season, as was his predecessor Phil Garner.

The Astros got off to a rough start again this year but really went into a tailspin during the summer after trading several high-priced veterans mostly for prospects. They have slashed almost $40 million from their opening-day roster and have a remaining payroll of just $21.3 million.

Francisco Cordero and Jed Lowrie, two of Houston's three highest-paid players, are on the disabled list. That leaves Ben Francisco as the only active player making more than $750,000.

Luhnow traded Carlos Lee to Miami on July 4 as the Astros went all in on their rebuilding effort under new owner Jim Crane. They have gone 7-32 since that deal, including a franchise-worst 12-game losing streak.

Lee was only the first piece to be jettisoned, however. After that, Houston got rid of pitchers J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon, David Carpenter, Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez before wrapping up a busy month by sending third baseman Chris Johnson to Arizona.

The trades left Mills in a compromised position with the youngest roster in the National League. He talked often about trying to get the inexperienced players to "do the little things right." He hoped that if they could start doing that it would lead to more wins.

But instead the losses continued to pile up, including a 4-34 slide during one stretch, and after Saturday night's particularly embarrassing loss in which the Diamondbacks scored nine runs in the fifth inning alone, Astros executives decided it was time to move on.

Crane bought the team from Drayton McLane last fall for $615 million in a transaction that requires the club to move from the NL Central to the AL West in 2013. Crane realized that things would probably get tougher after all the deals, but he wasn't necessarily prepared for what transpired.

"We made a lot of trades and once we made that decision -- Jeff started moving some of the talent -- we knew we might slide back a little bit, but we didn't think it would be this bad," Crane said recently.

Mills was hired by the Astros after serving as Boston's bench coach for the previous six seasons. Houston offered the job to Manny Acta first, but he turned it down to become Cleveland's manager.

Mills managed in the minor leagues for 10 seasons before becoming Terry Francona's first base coach with Philadelphia in 1997. The two played together in college and again with the Expos.

Though Mills remained positive as things got worse this season, he acknowledged recently that all the trades had made things even more difficult for him.

"When we first got here it was kind of a slow transition. Now all of a sudden with the new regime changes and things we decided:  `Let's do the whole thing now,"' Mills said recently. "It definitely puts things in a situation where wins are tougher because you're dealing with a lot of inexperienced individuals."

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.