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Dodgers have new sense of purpose

After the team collapsed to a fourth-place finish last season, new Manager Don Mattingly likes what he has seen during spring training.

March 30, 2011|By Dylan Hernandez
  • Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, right, runs with teammates during a spring training workout session at Camelback Ranch. Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly says it important for players to hold each other accountable for their actions.
Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, right, runs with teammates during a spring… (Kirby Lee / U.S. Presswire )

On one of the last days of spring training, Juan Uribe found a surprise waiting for him in his locker.

A two-foot-long lizard.

Uribe screamed and jumped out of his seat. Everyone laughed.

The reptile was later taken by its owner, Dioner Navarro, to Matt Kemp.

Kemp, who had his back turned to Navarro, had a reaction similar to Uribe's.

More laughs.

Fernando Valenzuela was a game-changer for the Dodgers, baseball, and Los Angeles

This was what the atmosphere of the Dodgers' clubhouse was like for most of camp, which players and coaches said was balanced by a sense of purpose when the team took the field.

The players were focused. They paid attention to details. And they got along.

Based on that, rookie Manager Don Mattingly said he was encouraged.

Mattingly said that wasn't what he saw last season, when a team coming off consecutive appearances in the National League Championship Series finished 80-82 and fourth in its division.

Mattingly couldn't, or wouldn't, pinpoint when the Dodgers fell apart. But he described them spiritually splintering off and losing sense of a common goal

"You just know," Mattingly said. "You just kind of see it."

From the first day of camp, Mattingly preached not repeating those mistakes.

"If you don't know where you're going, you're in trouble," he said. "I don't care how talented you are."

Which raises questions about comments made this week by Andre Ethier, who wondered aloud whether this would be his last season with the Dodgers.

On Tuesday, Ethier's agent released a statement verifying what General Ned Colletti said the previous day: He and Colletti had brief discussions about a contract extension, but the Dodgers never presented his client with an offer.

Will Ethier's uncertainty about his future affect the team?

Ethier said it wouldn't.

Andre Ethier isn't sure of future with Dodgers

Until this week, Ethier had been among the most vocal preachers of Mattingly's gospel.

"Everyone knows what the goal is and that's to win," he said before the Dodgers broke camp in Arizona. "We have to come together as a team to do it. I think everyone's on the same page."

Ethier said he saw what Mattingly saw last season.

"That's an accurate portrayal of what happened," he said. "That's what happens. It starts to gnaw on guys. Instead of coming together, it starts crumbling."

Opening-day starter Clayton Kershaw added: "Losing brings forth a lot of problems, spotlights a lot of issues. The opposite, winning, remedies all of that. You win, all these little problems go away. That's what we're going to do."

If anything, Mattingly has been clear about what he wants of his players.

"He always talks about how everyone wants to win, but how not everybody's willing to pay the price to do it," Kershaw said. "I think that's kind of our theme this year. We know all 30 teams are coming out of camp wanting to win. But it's a matter of doing what it takes to do it. We're going to do what it takes."

The points of emphasis have been talked about ad nauseam.

Defense. Baserunning. Attention to detail.

That the players seem to like one another is a plus.

Photos: The Fernando Valenzuela years

"Really, when you get down to it on the field, you're playing as a group," Mattingly said. "You've got to be for that guy out there. You've got to want him to do well. It's always nice when you know that the other guy there wants you to do well too. You feel like an obligation to him because he wants to win, you want to win, he's for you."

That sense of obligation, the manager said, leads to holding one another accountable.

Mattingly said that when the team hits a rough stretch, he wants the players to police one another rather than to wait for the intervention of a coach.

If a teammate doesn't run out a ground ball, Mattingly said, call him out.

"When you have that accountability to each other, that's where that purpose comes in," he said.

But Mattingly acknowledged that the team's character hasn't fully formed yet.

He said how the players respond to adversity will determine their fate.

"There are going to be storms during the course of the season," Mattingly said. "When guys stick together and battle back, that's when you really grow.

"That's when we're going to find out who we really are."

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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