02/21/12 6:03 PM EST
Mattingly seeks calm as Dodgers open camp
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
Workouts for pitchers and catchers officially begin Wednesday at Camelback Ranch-Glendale. Position players report Feb. 27, with the first full workout scheduled for the next day.
Manager Don Mattingly has already declared that one of his recurring themes throughout this spring will be to keep his club focused on baseball while the rest of the world is preoccupied with the franchise's bankruptcy auction.
"It could be a lot more distractions than last year," Mattingly said. "It all comes back to boring things, but we have to execute, make the pitches, get the pitches to hit. We wonder about what's going to happen, just like the fans. But we can't control that, and we still have a job to do."
Mattingly, working on a three-year contract, said job security (or the lack thereof) won't influence his approach, even though he knows a new owner will be taking over by the end of April.
"I pretty much do what I do," he said. "You get your team to perform the best it can. For the staff, it's prepare, prepare, prepare, prepare, and let the guys go. I do that without any fear of who's the next owner. That really doesn't bother me."
Mattingly and his staff will spend the early days of camp getting Chad Billingsley to "step up" (Mattingly's words), getting reliever Matt Guerrier back on track, becoming familiar with new starters Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano, and lining up a young bullpen headed by Javy Guerra and Kenley Jansen while sifting through the non-roster invitees to find this year's Mike MacDougal, Jeff Weaver, Takashi Saito or Jose Lima.
The Dodgers have stumbled upon more than their share of reclamation projects that emerged as key contributors. Jamey Wright, coming off a solid season with Seattle, is the Weaver-like prototype who could step into a similar role. Mattingly revealed that reliever Blake Hawksworth, who had January clean-up surgery on his elbow, had a second procedure for an infection and won't be ready by Opening Day.
Starting pitcher Ted Lilly will be a few days late after the Tuesday birth of his second child, a girl.
In addition to Harang and Capuano, the new face in the bullpen is free-agent middle reliever Todd Coffey, signed knowing that Hawksworth was behind in his recovery.
But it's not just the pitchers. The "and catchers" is especially important to the Dodgers, who have gone cheap and defensive behind the plate this year.
They let Rod Barajas go to Pittsburgh and promoted A.J. Ellis to starter, with journeyman Matt Treanor the veteran backup. For depth they brought in Josh Bard on a Minor League deal to mentor Tim Federowicz, and young backstops Griff Erickson and Matt Wallach also will catch early bullpen sessions.
"We want to play defense back there," said Mattingly. "We want catchers to call the game. We want them to study. We want them to help pitchers. And what we get on the other side of that is going to be, we'll take it."
Issues multiply when the position players report, because offensively, the Dodgers are hoping for a series of bounceback seasons to improve the offense, and hope is a dicey strategy.
Job No. 1 will be third baseman Juan Uribe, partly because his first season as a Dodger was a disaster, partly because there really isn't a promising replacement in house. A midseason trade for a David Wright-type player might be in the cards if Uribe can't rebound.
Also on the rebound is right fielder Andre Ethier, who underwent surgery on his right knee in September. With free agency looming, Ethier not only is a better bet than Uribe to rebound, but a contract extension figures to be a top priority when a new owner arrives.
The rebound of first baseman James Loney started at midseason last year, and he needs to keep that going, as he also will be eligible for free agency after this season.
At the top of the batting order will be shortstop Dee Gordon and his game-changing speed. Gordon will be trying to avoid the sophomore jinx after an eye-opening September.
Among the new faces are free-agent signing Mark Ellis, who takes over second base, and utility men Jerry Hairston and Adam Kennedy.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.