'Donnie Baseball' under way at Dodgers camp
New skipper Mattingly prepared, confident as workouts begin
PHOENIX -- It's time for Donnie Baseball.
After an offseason of preparation, Don Mattingly addressed pitchers and catchers in the clubhouse for the first time Thursday morning before his first Spring Training workout as manager of the Dodgers.
"I just told them what I feel -- what we expect from them and what we think it takes," Mattingly said after the meeting. "The guys who I've spent hours with in the cage know me, but it's a chance for the pitchers to hear what I think. We all know what we're after. It's all about the process, what it takes to get there. It's an everyday process to get ready, to get better."
Ronald Belisario was the only pitcher absent, running his streak to three springs in which he wasn't where he was supposed to be. He told a Venezuelan newspaper that he lost his passport. The Dodgers have put him out of their plans and would not be surprised if they don't see him again.
"I'll be concerned with the guys we have here and moving forward," said Mattingly. "If you're not here, it's tough to compete for a job."
The first casualty of the workout was non-roster pitcher Dana Eveland, who suffered an apparent hamstring strain running sprints Thursday.
The remainder of the position players take physicals Monday, and the first full-squad workout is Tuesday. The exhibition schedule opens quickly for the Dodgers, with split-squad road games Feb. 26 against the Angels and the Giants, only four days after the first full-squad workout.
Mattingly takes the wraps off with a remodeled coaching staff that includes former Dodgers fixture Davey Lopes as first-base coach and Trey Hillman as bench coach. Both are former Major League managers. Mattingly promises a tougher club, one that general manager Ned Colletti has challenged to show it can rebound from a losing record.
Colletti has already rectified one problem from a year ago. Instead of starting Spring Training without enough starting pitching, as he conceded he did a year ago, this season he has extras. He has given Mattingly a rotation of six legitimate starters -- Clayton Kershaw (already named the Opening Day starter), Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda, Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla.
Padilla told the club when he signed that he would be willing to relieve, but he's already said he wants to start. Mattingly said Padilla would be used as a starter in the spring, but that if everyone is healthy, Padilla is the candidate best suited for relief. Kershaw and Billingsley are the No. 1 and No. 2 starters, respectively; Lilly, Kuroda and Garland have always been starters.
"Vicente expressed what he wanted to do," Mattingly said, "but he's also willing to do what's best for the club. Whether that's starting, anything can happen. He'll work like a starter here and we'll go from there."
The club has taken the position that Padilla will open camp as a willing reliever, although the right-hander arrived in Arizona last week, motivated to prove he's healthy again and determined to break camp in the rotation.
It's the kind of competition Colletti and Mattingly have said they welcome, at least until they must tell one of them he's now a reliever.
Mattingly predicts that Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney and closer Jonathan Broxton are mentally ready to get their games back on track; he'll keep to a structured rest schedule for Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake, and he intends to platoon in left field (Marcus Thames and Jay Gibbons) and catcher (Rod Barajas and Dioner Navarro).
The Dodgers thought they were set at those last two positions a year ago with Manny Ramirez and Russell Martin, but things aren't always what they seem.
There really isn't a major injury rehab to worry about, although Padilla and Xavier Paul ended 2010 with neck injuries, and Gibbons came home early from winter ball with blurred vision he insisted was minor.
The key free agent added was infielder Juan Uribe, but Colletti also brought back Garland to eat innings, Navarro to push Barajas and added Thames to give the club the right-handed power Ramirez was expected to provide a year ago. Disappointed with outfield defense last year, Colletti also signed Tony Gwynn Jr., who was non-tendered by San Diego.
Colletti paid to keep Lilly and Kuroda in the rotation. And because he couldn't count on Belisario, he signed free agent Matt Guerrier to a three-year, $12 million contract, even though he slots in behind Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo, if not Kenley Jansen.
With Padilla also in the bullpen, there might be two spots open for a group of contenders that includes Blake Hawksworth (out of options), Ramon Troncoso, Scott Elbert, Carlos Monasterios, John Ely, Jon Link and the usual collection of non-roster invitees that includes eight Major League veterans, including Ron Mahay.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.