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01/12/11 6:50 PM EST
Mattingly upbeat despite Dodgers' uncertainty
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- With Joe Torre nowhere in sight, Don Mattingly showed he's already learning the ropes of big league managing on Wednesday by sidestepping the question of who will start for the Dodgers in left field this season. He said he's already talked to third baseman Casey Blake (37 and coming off a .248 batting average) about making some outfield starts. Blake was primarily an outfielder in 2005-06 for Cleveland. With newcomer Juan Uribe and utilityman Jamey Carroll, the Dodgers have third-base options in-house, and are still considering signing free-agent third baseman Eric Chavez. "Casey understands at this point in his career he might benefit by playing a hair less [in the infield] and might get more production," said Mattingly. "He's played a lot of outfield, more right field than left." The club also is considering something a little more radical -- moving Andre Ethier from right field to left, moving Matt Kemp (one year removed from a Gold Glove) from center field to right and turning center field over to Tony Gwynn, but only if Gwynn hits his way into the lineup with a big Spring Training. He hit .270 in 2009 but .204 last year and was non-tendered by San Diego. Tentatively, Jay Gibbons is penciled in for left field against right-handed pitching, but he just returned from winter ball complaining of blurred vision. Mattingly also mentioned Xavier Paul, who is out of options, but expressed the hope that a right-handed bat would appear for a platoon. When it was jokingly suggested that the club might find an outfield solution in the form of retired former Dodgers slugger Shawn Green -- on hand Wednesday to speak to the developmental mini-camp -- Mattingly said, "Another left-hander?" Free-agent outfielders previously considered -- Scott Podsednik, Marcus Thames, Jerry Hairston and Scott Hairston -- have pretty much fallen off the radar. Only Thames has the power potential that could bolster the middle of the lineup. Mattingly reiterated a theme he expressed one week after the disappointing 2010 season ended. "I want a club that plays with toughness," he said. "One thing on the West Coast, we always have good weather, but we'll go to San Francisco and get weather and the East Coast and get weather and I don't want us making any excuses. I want a no-excuses club coming every day prepared." Asked if that was missing last year, Mattingly wouldn't say. "Last year is over for me. Last year was last year," he said. "When things go wrong, I want us to be resilient. It's about expectations. It's what the fans expect. They want to see the club play hard every day. I feel it's an obligation to the fans of L.A. and to the game of baseball. It's the way it's supposed to be played." Mattingly was asked if the Dodgers will be good this year. "Yeah, I think we'll be a good club," he said. "We had a bad second half, we didn't play the game, we didn't swing the bats at all. We're that same club, but we're also the same club in '09 and '08 [division champs]. I think last year was an exception. A lot of things went wrong for a lot of guys. Maybe as a staff we didn't handle as we should. The players have responsibilities, too." As for the coaching staff, base coaches Larry Bowa and Mariano Duncan have been replaced by Tim Wallach (also handling infielders) and Davey Lopes (also on baserunning). Former Royals manager Trey Hillman replaced Bob Schaefer as bench coach, with Jeff Pentland moving into Mattingly's hitting-coach job and Dave Hansen coming on to assume Pentland's hitting-instructor role. Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, bullpen coach Ken Howell, instructor Manny Mota and bullpen catchers Rob Flippo and Mike Borzello return. "I want a positive environment," Mattingly said. "I want players relaxed, but ready to play." Asked if he felt the coaching staff had soured last year, Mattingly again spun it forward. "Last year was last year," he said. "I'm not getting into it. I want to create an enjoyable environment." With the lack of a big-bat pickup (aside from new second baseman Uribe), Mattingly said the Dodgers must get more offense from Ethier, Kemp and James Loney. "Those guys have to be our bats," he said. "I expect them to have big years." He said Jonathan Broxton is still his closer after a bad second half and Rod Barajas is the likely starter behind the plate with Russell Martin gone, but Mattingly wouldn't rule out significant playing time for Dioner Navarro or A.J. Ellis behind the dish.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.