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09/29/11 5:10 PM ET

Mattingly already thinking about how to improve

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- His first season at the helm ended Wednesday night, so what was Dodgers manager Don Mattingly doing in a 7 a.m. Minor League meeting Thursday at Camelback Ranch, where Instructional League is underway?

"Getting to know the names of the young kids so I can follow them," said Mattingly. "Three days here then home to Indiana for my first offseason in two years."

Last season, Mattingly hurried to Arizona for a crash course in managing at the Fall League, where his roster included Javy Guerra, Scott Elbert and Jerry Sands. Injuries to others provided opportunity for the kids, but Mattingly felt it was an added benefit during this season that he knew their games.

Mattingly is already pondering what might be in 2012, hoping for that big (Prince Fielder?) free-agent bat, but also how to get more from what he already has.

He said he wants to see improvement from Andre Ethier, coming off surgery for a power-robbing knee injury, and Chad Billingsley.

"I talked to [Ethier] and told him you can't give away so many at-bats," Mattingly said of his emotional right fielder. "To me, he gave away 100 at-bats, and we can't have a guy we're counting on in the middle of the order giving that many away. His frustration hurts him and ends up hurting us. Sometimes he's not focused. Matt [Kemp] has been focused all year long. [Ethier] gets frustrated, loses focus and throws away his at-bats."

Mattingly said Billingsley isn't any worse than before (although a 4.21 ERA disputes that), but he isn't getting better, either.

"I feel like he should be a little better, a little better, a little better -- for me, he's been flat line," said Mattingly. "I told him that. That said, it hasn't been bad. He's not satisfied with the way things went. It's up to Chad. We know he's got the ability, the stuff to do it. He can be the guy to get late into a 1-0 game, but he can have a five-run lead and all of a sudden it's 5-4, and that's happened too much. He's said he's not satisfied with where he's at. He's still a valuable guy in the rotation, but he can be better."

Mattingly said management has discussed the possible return of three free agents whose injuries this year threw the roster into chaos -- Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake and Jonathan Broxton.

Mostly because of age and durability, Mattingly sounds as if the club has the most interest in Broxton, who had minor elbow surgery two weeks ago.

"The surgery was not significant," Mattingly said. "He could very well come back throwing 96, 97."

He said Furcal (now with St. Louis, and injured again) has been considered for the opening at second base, and Blake as a corner infield bench player, but there is hesitancy because "we don't know if we can keep them on the field."

Broxton's injury led to the emergence of Guerra as the new closer and Kenley Jansen as an invisiball-throwing, strikeout-machine setup man. Mattingly hopes the club can retain durable free agent Mike MacDougal, but Broxton might provide depth.

Mattingly said he expects improvement from Matt Guerrier, whose decent season (4.07 ERA, led bullpen in appearances with 70) was less than what he and the Dodgers expected (19 of 41 inherited runners scored) after signing a three-year, $12 million deal.

"He told me he didn't throw the way he thinks he's capable," Mattingly said. "I told him in spring, don't come here thinking you've got anything to prove to anybody, but in Minnesota everybody knew him and what he could do. He comes here and he's trying to prove to us and the fans. He said he felt like he wasn't himself. He expects to be more consistent, better with runners on base. He said he's better than this, and I think he'll be better next year."

The shortstop job is Dee Gordon's, who hit .304 in addition to his 24 steals in only 56 games.

"He'll throw some balls away, but he showed he was the player they touted," Mattingly said.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.