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T.J. SIMERS

Mattingly could work on keeping order in the lineup

A gaffe regarding the batting order occurs while he manages the Dodgers in Joe Torre's absence.

March 11, 2010|T.J. Simers

Reporting from Phoenix — Joe Torre had just taken off for Taiwan, leaving Don Mattingly to manage his first game at any level, Mattingly saying a few hours earlier Wednesday, "It's not that complicated," just before batting the Dodgers out of order.

In hindsight, maybe a few games of experience as a Little League skipper might've been a good idea.

"Joe's somewhere on a plane, and it's a debacle out there," said Andre Ethier with a laugh after making the second out in the third inning, then two hitters later leading off the fourth with a home run.

Two days earlier Torre had Page 2 sign the lineup cards so they might be given to the umpire and opposing team, the Dodgers going on to play the game with no problems.

"Maybe you should be manager," Mattingly said, and obviously he's a lot sharper than he came off during his first game.

The Dodgers had Ethier hitting third in the lineup posted on the clubhouse wall, Matt Kemp fourth, but turned a card in to the umpires and the Diamondbacks that had Kemp batting third and Ethier hitting cleanup.

Bench coach Bob Schaefer had made the mistake in filling out the lineup cards, but it happened on Mattingly's watch, so it really is on him.

"I just didn't check the lineup card," said Mattingly, who was making the point once again before the game that the media on the East Coast are so much tougher on managers and players than the media on the West Coast.

I don't know about that, but lucky for Mattingly the Yankees didn't think him ready to become a manager, getting the chance to make blunders here where no one really cares.

"It was Tommy [Lasorda's] fault," said Mattingly, who had as many as eight coaches and Lasorda on the bench to hold his hand during his debut. "He should have been helping me."

I think he was joking, although I wondered if he had tried to text Torre for instructions on what to do next.

"You can't have cellphones on the bench; it's against the rules," Mattingly said with emphasis -- proud of himself for knowing that much.

Was he embarrassed for making such a gaffe?

"No," he said. "Isn't it good to get it out of the way early. I consider it a positive."

In a way, it worked. Ethier was out in the first, Kemp out leading off the second, and then one of the umpires told third base coach Larry Bowa the Dodgers were hitting out of order.

"I wasn't sure of the rule," said Mattingly, and the rulebook is thick and tough to get through. "I went to the home plate ump and told him we were out of order, and he said, 'I know.' He said we had established a new order and to go with it."

How do you like the next manager of the Dodgers so far?

Mattingly said Schaefer didn't think the umpires got it right, but Schaefer was the guy who incorrectly filled out the lineup card.

Ethier remained hitting third and flied out in the third, the Diamondbacks making a pitching change with two runners on to face Kemp, who then grounded out to end the inning.

"The umpire came over and said there was a misunderstanding," Mattingly said. He said the umpire told him that his initial ruling that had the Dodgers establishing a new order was incorrect.

So Ethier, who had been hitting third, moved to fourth, and while most fans were expecting the No. 5 hitter to lead off the bottom of the fourth, they got Ethier again.

As chaotic as all that sounds, there was no announcement made to explain to the paying customers what had just happened. Everyone in the press box understood -- it was Mattingly managing his first game.

"Smart managerial strategy," said Blake DeWitt, obviously cozying up to the new guy as soon as Torre was out of sight. "He lets [Ethier] get loose one inning and comes right back with him the next inning so he can hit one out of the park."

THE OTHER day Torre arrived here only to find someone had taken the manager's parking spot, the obvious conclusion -- Mattingly's patience had run out.

But no, it was the Dodgers' PR guy, who just likes to think he runs the team, Mattingly still knowing his place and parking in the back row -- where the PR guy probably should be parking.

The time is coming, though, possibly as soon as the start of next season, given the general understanding between Mattingly and team management that Mattingly will replace Torre.

Mattingly has been working with training wheels attached as Dodgers manager since the start of spring training, Torre at his side until he left for Taiwan. It's a work in progress, the media, though, giving Mattingly every chance to establish himself as soon as Torre was gone.

"How about naming DeWitt the Dodgers' starting second baseman?"

"I'll check with Joe," said Mattingly, and how scary is it now knowing Mattingly won't have his cellphone on the bench?

Fortunately, Mattingly now has one game of experience as a manager all by himself, to be accurate, a game that does not count, still leaving him 4,161 games shy of Torre's experience in games that do.

"Sure it's a negative, the more experience the better," he said, "but it's not that complicated."

Tell that to Schaefer.

He said he's in no hurry to replace Torre, never thinks about it, and while that's hard to believe, he said he met with the Dodgers' brass, including Frank McCourt, and was told he figures prominently in the team's future. He passed on a chance to interview with Washington because of such assurances.

Mattingly said he's all about helping the Dodgers' hitters now, while also operating with the mind-set that he's got to ready himself for the start of next season should Torre opt not to return.

"I'll probably check the lineup card Thursday," he said, the improvement already obvious.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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