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Cubs zero in on hitting coach

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ORLANDO, Fla. – They avoided any semblance of a wow factor when hiring their new manager, but the Cubs might make up for some of that in the hiring of a hitting coach.

The Cubs are talking with former Cub and 2003 batting champion Bill Mueller about joining new manager Rick Renteria’s coaching staff, according to multiple sources.

And a staff expected to be fully assembled in the next week or so also could include longtime minor league instructors Gary Jones from the San Diego Padres and Bruce Fields from the Detroit Tigers as base coaches.

Most of former manager Dale Sveum’s coaching staff was fired or left for other jobs during the managerial search, including hitting coach James Rowson, who returned to the New York Yankees organization.

Mueller, long respected for a hitting approach that helped him surpass expectations as a 15th-round draft pick, has worked in the Los Angeles Dodgers front office since retiring in 2006 after an 11-year playing career in which he hit .291.

Mueller, 42, filled in as the Dodgers’ hitting coach for half the 2007 season and has spent the past year as a Dodgers scout.

He won the American League batting title for Boston in Theo Epstein’s first season as Red Sox general manager in 2003 and was an important part of the curse-busting “Idiots” championship in Boston the following season. He spent 2001 and part of 2002 with the Cubs.

“Obviously, the right hitting coach has to be on board with the organizational philosophy but maybe more importantly than that, he has to be able to connect with players,” Cubs president Epstein said, “and teach them and support them and struggle with them and ultimately triumph with them. So I think it’s going to take a really dynamic personality and somebody with great feel and the ability to connect with all different kinds of hitters. Because not everybody does it the same. But we want someone who’s really well grounded in selective aggressiveness.”

Mueller walked more times than he struck out four times in his career and had a .373 on-base percentage.

Fields and Jones are longtime Renteria guys.

Fields, 53, is a former outfielder with Detroit and Seattle who managed eight seasons in the Detroit system through 2002 (with a .554 winning percentage) and was briefly the Cleveland Indians hitting coach under Manny Acta. He spent last season as a roving hitting instructor in Detroit’s system.

Jones, also 53, spent 15 years as a minor-league manager in the Oakland, Boston and San Diego systems. He was a first-base coach on Oakland’s major-league staff in 1998.

Jones was a second baseman originally signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Cubs in 1982 and played eight minor-league seasons (career .437 on-base percentage).

The Cubs have retained pitching coach Chris Bosio and assistant pitching coach/bullpen coach Lester Strode.

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