02/19/11 5:28 PM EST
Mattingly steps to the plate during 'pen sessions
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
Don Mattingly is watching them from where he's most comfortable. The batter's box.
Howling winds and occasional rains Saturday moved the bullpen sessions into the covered hitting cages, and Dodgers pitchers were surprised to see their manager grab a fungo and step in to watch what they had from the perspective of a hitter.
Actually, the perspective of one of the great Yankees hitters of all-time.
"That's where I can tell how the ball comes out, and I can tell that that pitch can get a guy out or somebody can hit it," said Mattingly. "You get in and can actually see if it's moving late. You watch and say to yourself, 'Why is a guy swinging at that?' You get in there and can see why."
While it's still the first week of workouts, there are notable differences in how this Spring Training differs from those of Mattingly's mentor, Joe Torre.
One is the daily baserunning session first-base coach Davey Lopes holds with early-reporting position players. Saturday the students were Matt Kemp, Rafael Furcal, Tony Gwynn, Trayvon Robinson, Trent Oeltjen and Dee Gordon.
But Mattingly's participation in the bullpen sessions had the players talking.
"First time I ever saw that," said catcher Dioner Navarro. "Caught me off guard. I did a double take. You know, you don't want to drill him. But you can see he wants to be involved in everything, to know everything. It's like he's back to being a player. He knows what it takes. It brings confidence to the team to see that. It's exciting."
Mattingly, 49, said he no longer gets the urge to actually hit, having retired after the 1995 season. And he only steps in to his natural left-handed side, because he said he might not know how to get out of the way from the right-hander's box.
Among the pitchers he "faced" Saturday were veterans Hiroki Kuroda and Vicente Padilla. Mattingly said he'd think twice if he saw a pitcher was having control problems.
"Managers do that in Japan and it's considered an honor," said Kuroda. "They do it for top young prospects and established veterans. And in the middle of Spring Training you have a session when you throw 200 to 300 pitches to establish endurance, and the manager steps in then, so you don't slack off."
Kuroda is working on a new curveball in camp and Mattingly gave a nod of approval after watching one.
Padilla, of course, has earned a reputation over the years as being a headhunter, to which Mattingly made a vague reference when asked why he chose to "face" the right-hander.
"I think they're a little nervous sometimes. I don't think they really want to come [inside]," Mattingly said. "I just step back a little when they're coming inside. I'm sure they don't want to hit me. Padilla could scare you. I hope he's not mad at me. I know that if he hit me, it's because he wanted to hit me. But a pitcher, when you pitch in, you pitch in. You can't be afraid, or you end up in the middle of the plate. He can throw the ball where he wants."
Padilla, in his 12th Major League season, said it was the first time a manager had ever stepped in during one of his bullpen sessions, but he said it wasn't a problem.
"I didn't hit him," he said with a smile. "It was easy. He was a good hitter."
Rod Barajas, a 10-year veteran, also said he's never seen a manager do that.
"But it hasn't been that long since he was a hitter, and he knows what a good pitch is and a bad pitch is," he said. "I think it's neat. I think the pitchers like it. They want to show their stuff. Imagine the younger guys, they could go back and call their parents and say I threw to Donnie."
Jon Garland said the most surprising part of Mattingly's decision was to do it in the dimly lit cage.
"I had trouble seeing the ball come back from the catcher," he said. "It would be hard to pick up the ball and get out of the way if you had to. But it shows he wants to be in there with us. You want to play for somebody like that."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.