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There could be a new Don Mattingly this year, and that's good

April 07, 2012|By Steve Dilbeck
  • Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly watches an exhibition game against the Angels on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium.
Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly watches an exhibition game against the Angels… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

I’d like to find someone who doesn’t like Don Mattinglyas a person. He is just a likable and sincere guy, unpretentious and seemingly unaffected by spending years in the spotlight.

As a rookie manager last season, he naturally made a few moves to raise eyebrows. All managers do anyway, but first-year guys are watched extra carefully. Particularly those who like to bunt a runner from second to third.

But you had to wonder whether Mattingly’s nice-guy demeanor would translate into the toughness sometimes required of all good managers. When players don’t run out hits, throw to the cut-off man, play fundamental baseball and put in the work, would he get after them?

During the course of last season, I had sincere doubts. Worried that confrontation just wasn’t part of his makeup.

Maybe he ultimately recognized a need to be able to tap into a more direct approach too, because by season’s end he was showing more willingness to step forward and be more demanding.

He sent Dioner Navarro packing at the end of August because of his weak work ethic. When the season ended, he bluntly said Chad Billingsley had flat-lined and needed to step up. In the winter meetings, he said that Andre Ethier’s emotions got the better of him to the tune of 100 at-bats.

And now the season has started, and in the second game of the year, he sits James Loney against a left-hander. Then on Saturday, he sat both third baseman Juan Uribe and lef fielder Juan Rivera.

Mattingly said before spring began he might sit Ethier and Loney against some left-handers. Both Ethier (.220) and Loney (.213) continued to struggle against lefties last season, but during the spring Ethier showed an improved approach against left-handers, so he started Friday and drove in four runs against Cory Luebke.

Mattingly said he was sitting Uribe and Rivera on Saturday because he wanted to play them Sunday against left-hander Clayton Richard. I’m pretty sure they could have played Saturday and Sunday.

Mattingly also mentioned something about wanting to rest them, which is swell, except they don't play a game Monday.

With Rivera, Mattingly probably would best be served mixing in some off-days for the 33-year-old, who seemed to wear down last season when he played every day.

Uribe is 0 for 7 with three strikeouts in the first two games and did little this spring to alleviate fears his miserable 2011 (.204 batting average, .293 slugging) was more than a one-season aberration.

The trouble with Uribe is, the Dodgers don’t really have anyone to slip in at third. Mattingly started Adam Kennedy there on Saturday.

Still, very early on Mattingly is looking like a manager with less patience who’s willing to act more aggressively. And that is a very good thing.

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There could be a new Don Mattingly this year, and that's good

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