Dodgers manager Don Mattingly reiterated on Saturday what he has said for most of the spring, that he feels more comfortable as the manager in his second season than he did in his first campaign last year. Another year with mostly the same coaching staff has helped Mattingly find a comfort zone this season, as more settled in with a year under his belt.
Mattingly has a pretty easy going, even tempered demeanor, and he has a good relationship with his players, many of whom he knew as their hitting coach while Joe Torre was managing. But that doesn't necessarily mean Mattingly is always on the players' side.
"I like these guys and I like players in general. I have an understanding of what they go through," Mattingly said of his reputation as a player's manager. "I don't have their backs if they don't play the game right. There is an expectation of how we play and as long as we're doing that and they're giving me everything they've got, then I'm going to have their back."
Mattingly said he learned a lot in his first year at the helm of the Dodgers, specifically the ongoing communication with his general manager, Ned Colletti.
"The interaction from up to down is what you don't realize as a coach that you do as a manager, that the interaction with Ned and how that works back and forth," Mattingly said. "It was a good experience for me to understand how it works between the flow of players, the flow of information, and answering to a boss in that way."
Though he feels more comfortable in the manager's chair now, with a year of experience under his belt, Mattingly doesn't think he was hindered by his lack of minor league managing experience.
"It's more leadership in this position. There are a zillion guys who can run a game. But there's so much communication with these guys and having an understanding of what you expect. You have to know Xs and Os, but there are a lot of guys who know that," said Mattingly, who also noted he was happy for both Mike Matheny and Robin Ventura, both without minor league managing experience, hired to manage St. Louis and Chicago, respectively this season.
"If you go to the minor leagues and manage, you don't manage. You play the guys they tell you to play," said Mattingly. "[The organization is] going to make decisions for you. You don't put your lineup together, they're going to tell you to hit certain guys in certain spots, as that's part of development. It ties your hands a little bit."
Not that Mattingly is completely discounting experience. In fact, he relishes having a friend in Trey Hillman as his bench coach and sounding board. Hillman has 20 years of managing experience in the minors, majors, and in Japan, and has also worked on the scouting and development side.
"The one thing you need is experienced people around you," said Mattingly.
Though sometimes, tough decisions have to be made with those experienced people, like Jeff Pentland, who was fired as hitting coach last July 20.
"The coaching change wasn't comfortable at all. I love [Jeff Pentland], I think he's really good at what he does and has a ton of knowledge on the swing and how it works, so that was tough," Mattingly said. "Somebody's going to go if something's going really bad, and you can't get rid of the players."
The team averaged 3.6 runs per game in 98 games with Pentland as hitting coach, and scored 4.6 runs per game in 63 games with Dave Hansen in that role, though Mattingly also noted that the addition of Juan Rivera helped the offense as well.
"It happened a lot in New York where they would fire the manager or fire the pitching coach, or whoever it would be. I always knew in those situations, as a player, that we failed as players," said Mattingly. "We let somebody down, we didn't do the job, and they got the blame. When somebody goes, it's not necessarily that guy's fault."
Mattingly talks a lot about communication, both with his coaches and his players, and it shows in his leadership style. From what I can tell, there isn't really anyone inside the Dodgers clubhouse that doesn't know where they stand with Mattingly, who is as straight a shooter as they come. Sometimes, that's all you can ask for.
The Dodgers play their first of two day-night split squad Saturdays today, beginning with a road contest in Peoria against the Seattle Mariners and concluding with a night game (6:05 p.m. PST) back at Camelback Ranch against the Chicago White Sox.
Nathan Eovaldi starts the day game for the Dodgers. Also scheduled to pitch are Ronald Belisario, Josh Wall, Matt Chico, Alberto Castillo, Jamey Wright, and Ramon Troncoso. Ryan Tucker is also listed on the travel roster.
Hisashi Iwakuma starts on the mound for Seattle, who also has a split squad today and another game tonight. Other Seattle pitchers available for the day game are Charlie Furbush, Brandon League, Aaron Heilman, Chance Ruffin, Mauricio Robles, Jeff Marquez, Roenis Elias, and Jonathan Arias.
The Dodgers signed one more player from their March 1 open tryout camp, inking former UCLA Bruin and former Minnesota Vikings safety Jarrad Page to a minor league deal on Saturday.
Game Time: 12:05 p.m. PST
Radio: None, though the Seattle broadcast can be heard on MLB Gameday Audio.