Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly chats with slugger Matt Kemp during an exhibition… (Mark Duncan / Associated…)
Reporting from Tempe, Ariz. -- The critique had become cliché. How could the Dodgers let Don Mattingly manage their team when he never had managed a minor league game?
Mattingly acquitted himself nicely last year. As he prepares for his second year, he is confident enough in his ability to say managing in the minor leagues should not be a prerequisite to managing in the majors.
"It's more leadership in this job," Mattingly said. "Guys know baseball. There's a zillion guys that can run a game."
Mattingly acknowledged that a minor league apprenticeship could help a prospective major league manager polish his communication skills. He scoffed at the idea, however, that a stint in the minor leagues would provide significant experience in roster management and in-game strategy.
"You don't manage," he said. "You play the guys they tell you to play. They put your lineup together for you."
Mattingly said former Dodgers catcher Brad Ausmus could step right into a major league managing job.
The Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals each hired managers last winter without minor league experience — Robin Ventura in Chicago, Mike Matheny in St. Louis. That could be dicey for Matheny, since the Cardinals have nowhere to go but down after winning the World Series last season.
"He's in a tough spot," Mattingly said, "but he's got a good club."
As he warmed up before the game Monday in Tempe, Ariz., against the Angels, Aaron Harang heard the announced lineup of Howie Kendrick, Albert Pujols, Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells and so on and thought, "[Angels Manager Mike] Scioscia put his 'A' guys in for this one, huh?"
Alarm bells, no crisis.
Harang limited the stacked lineup to three hits in three innings a day after the Angels' 17-run outburst against Cleveland and the Dodgers proceeded to a 9-1 victory.
"No matter what lineup I face, I'm going out there to work on the things I feel I need to — my breaking ball, I threw a few good changeups," Harang said.
Against Pujols, Harang watched the slugger line a changeup to charging Matt Kemp in right-center, then ground out to third.
"You've got to go right in there and be aggressive because he's waiting on the mistake pitch," Harang said.
The Dodgers are keeping a close eye on Josh Fields, a non-roster invitee with three hits in his first 11 at-bats. Fields is expected to start the season at triple-A Albuquerque. However, if Juan Uribe suffers a significant injury, the Dodgers might prefer Fields to Adam Kennedy or Jerry Hairston Jr. at third base.
Fields, 29, split last season between the minor leagues and Japan. In his one season as an everyday major leaguer, he hit .244 with 23 home runs for the 2007 Chicago White Sox. He has been hampered by injuries and ineffectiveness since then, and Mattingly suggested Fields might have been miscast as a power hitter.
"That happens to a lot of guys," Mattingly said.
Fields never hit more than 19 home runs in a minor league season.