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07/09/08 10:02 PM ET
Mattingly to rejoin Dodgers after break
As planned, Easler relinquishes hitting-coach role
By Michael Schwartz / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- Don Mattingly is finally ready to become the Dodgers' hitting coach. Mattingly will take over the duties he was originally signed for after the All-Star break. He has been working in a reduced role as a special hitting instructor so he could spend more time at home in Evansville, Ind., where he needed to be with his youngest son following Mattingly's divorce. Mike Easler, who had been the interim hitting coach in Mattingly's place, will be shifted to a roving hitting instructor position, Easler said, making him the third such rover in the organization. Easler will continue as the Dodgers' hitting coach until the break and said he has no hard feelings because general manager Ned Colletti explained the situation to him from the start. "When he came on board it was basically that he was holding the fort down until Donny was able to join us on a full-time basis, and this was that time," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre. Colletti, Torre and Easler all said the move was not performance-based, saying the job was Mattingly's whenever he felt fit to return to the position. But the Dodgers' offense hasn't exactly set the league on fire this season. The team ranks among the bottom four in the National League in runs, hits, homers, slugging percentage and on-base plus slugging percentage. "Easler worked hard," Torre said. "Mike, again, knowing that you're here on not a permanent basis but knowing that you're sort of keeping the shop here until somebody else shows up, I thought Mike put in a lot of time, put in a lot of effort, worked individually with players. I couldn't have asked for anything more from a coach for his commitment for what he's done here." Mattingly will become Los Angeles' ninth hitting coach in the last 11 years. Jeff Kent, the team's longest-tenured hitter having spent 3 1/2 years with the club, will now be guided by his fifth hitting coach in that time. Torre said he's talked to Mattingly about his availability for the full-time position all year but admitted over the last month they've been talking "a little bit more." Mattingly committed "a couple weeks ago," Torre said, and the team announced the move now instead of after the All-Star break so Easler would be told from the organization, not an outside source. Easler said the move came down to Torre wanting to surround himself with people he's comfortable with, something Easler understands. Torre had worked with Mattingly for the past four years with the Yankees, where the former first baseman spent 2007 as the bench coach and the three previous years as the hitting coach. Torre officially brought Mattingly to Los Angeles on Nov. 16, and he was replaced by Easler on Jan. 22 due to his personal situation. "Donny and I have been together for a few years now, and he was one of the guys along with [third-base coach] Larry Bowa that I felt was necessary to come along with me, so I feel like we are getting a little more whole in that area," Torre said. "Donny brings a lot to the table, not only the hitting aspect." Torre does not expect there to be much of an adjustment for the hitters because Mattingly and Easler discussed hitting approaches and philosophies in January before Easler was promoted and "everything matched up," Torre said. "We worked closely together, and that was from the beginning," Easler said. "He knows exactly what everyone's been doing, but that was understood, so that's no big deal." Mattingly has also spent time with the team in Spring Training and on select road trips near the Midwest, so he has a feel for the hitters. "To me just having him around, it's not only the hitting aspect, just his presence, and when you look around at the coaching staff, Donny played in 1995, that's not that long ago," Torre said. "[He] doesn't come on too strong and yet is very sure about what he does and ... he just seems to command respect. It's just something you really can't put your finger on, but you can feel it when you're around him." Torre said he feels like the Dodgers' young hitters developed under Easler, who tutored many of them as a Minor League hitting coach with the organization in 2006 and 2007, despite the season being what Torre described as a "rocky road" at times. Easler said he's happy with the development of young players such as Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and James Loney. He also cited Blake DeWitt's rapid surge from a Double-A player to an everyday starter this season as something he's particularly proud of. "These kids know me, these kids have known me for there years, they know the work I've done, the hours I've spent with them, and it's going to pay off," Easler said. "I just want these kids to win. These kids have come a long way."
Michael Schwartz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.