Astros legend Jeff Bagwell declines to return as hitting coach

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Jeff Bagwell, who left a cushy front-office job to return to the field as the Astros’ hitting coach at the All-Star break, announced Saturday that he wouldn’t return in that role in 2011.

Bagwell was offered a two-year deal to stay on as the hitting coach, but with seven- and nine-year-old daughters at home, he wasn’t willing to make that commitment.

“This was a very difficult decision for me,” he said in a press release. “I enjoyed my time as hitting coach a great deal. The players were great and I can’t think of a better coaching staff to work with. They were outstanding.”

Despite trading Lance Berkman to the Yankees at the deadline, the Astros improved considerably on offense in the second half. They went from hitting .238/.296/.347 before the break to .259/.311/.379 afterwards.

Bagwell will be eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time this winter. He leads a new class of eligibles that also includes Kevin Brown, Rafael Palmeiro, Larry Walker and John Olerud.

Chris Sale will start on Opening Day for Red Sox

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No surprise here: Chris Sale will start on Opening Day for the Red Sox, Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe reports. The Red Sox open the season on March 29 in Tampa Bay against the Rays. Sale will oppose Chris Archer.

Sale, 28, is the fifth different Opening Day starter the Red Sox have had in as many years, preceded by Rick Porcello, David Price, Clay Buchholz, and Jon Lester. Sale started on Opening Day for the White Sox in 2013, ’14, and ’16.

Sale finished second in AL Cy Young Award balloting last year and finished ninth for AL MVP. He went 17-8 with a 2.90 ERA and a 308/43 K/BB ratio in 214 1/3 innings. Sale and Clayton Kershaw (2015) are the only pitchers to strike out 300 or more batters in a season dating back to 2003.