Don Mattingly looked comfortable on his first semi-official morning as Dodgers manager, and in a few years, he might seem even more at home. The Dodgers hitting coach is at the helm at Camelback Ranch in place of regular skipper Joe Torre, who is handling the split squad that left for Taiwan on Wednesday. But he’s also viewed as Torre’s potential successor in Chavez Ravine, and Mattingly reiterated that he was approached in the offseason about eventually filling that role.
“Nothing definitive” was discussed in terms of replacing Torre, who is in the final year of his contract with the Dodgers but has talked to team owner Frank McCourt about an extension for 2011, Mattingly said.
But Mattingly said that in between his offseason interview with the Cleveland Indians and a scheduled interview with the Washington Nationals, he met with McCourt and general manager Ned Colletti, and Mattingly said he met with McCourt, Colletti and team president Dennis Mannion later in the winter in Arizona and had productive conversations that led him to turn down the Nationals interview.
“They like me, I like them, and I felt like I was part of their future,” Mattingly said. “So we kept the conversation going. … I like California. I liked it from the first time I came out to play [with the Yankees in the 1980s] in Anaheim. It fits my personality more than anything. It fits me perfectly.”
On Wednesday, the role of manager, even if it’s only for five days in the Cactus League, also seemed to fit him perfectly. He began his first day in the interim gig by handling the inquisitive Los Angeles media with veteran aplomb.
One L.A. newspaper columnist jokingly asked Mattingly if he’s ready to officially name hot-hitting Blake DeWitt as the Dodgers’ starting second baseman for 2010.
Mattingly laughed it off and remarked that he’d be sure to answer reporters’ questions in a “dull” fashion so as not to cause any controversy. In doing so, he passed the first of many tests on his road to a Major League manager’s seat.
“Experience,” Mattingly said of what he’d take out of his five-day stint as manager. “I just keep getting it.”
Mattingly has plenty of experience outside of managing, of course.
The Yankees legend, who starred at first base from 1983-95, was the Yankees’ hitting coach under Torre from 2004-06, took over bench coach duties in ’07, and even got to manage two games that season.
“Joe’s bad temper got him thrown out when I was bench coach,” said Mattingly, who claims he went 1-1 in the two games, although the win and loss are on Torre’s permanent record. “He probably blames me for getting thrown out of those games.”
Mattingly followed Torre to Los Angeles, taking over the Dodgers’ hitting coach duties after the ’08 All-Star break. In ’09, the club led the National League with a .270 batting average and .346 on-base percentage.
Mattingly said he’ll still be primarily focused on making his hitters better, even during these give games of managing, but that he’s happy to get a taste of the stressful in-game decision-making that’s needed when you’re in the big chair.
“There’s a lot going on, with guys switching out [of positions and spots in the batting order],” he said. “But each day, there’s more of a rhythm and flow to the game.”
Part of his managerial duties are to inform the media of the status of injured players. Mattingly was prepared, saying that starter Charlie Haeger left Tuesday’s game with a strained lower back and hip and that no magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test appeared to be necessary. Mattingly estimated Haeger would be out “a couple days.”
He also said third baseman Casey Blake (strained muscle in his side) would take another day off but would probably be ready to play Thursday.
He also said the team would give Garret Anderson some work at first base, a position the veteran big league outfielder hasn’t played since Triple-A in 1994, because it gives the team “more flexibility.”
Mattingly made sure to repeat that he’s not looking ahead to a managerial career when there’s so much work to be done in his present position.
“You never stop learning,” Mattingly said. “I’ve got to keep my priorities straight and know what my job is. And Joe knows I’ve got his back.”
source: Doug Miller