Mattingly leads Dodgers with steady hand
Manager won't criticize his players, a lesson learned from his dad
LOS ANGELES -- A week ago, the Dodgers were off to their best start in decades. Now they've lost three of four, and manager Don Mattingly faces his first real test of the year as closer Javy Guerra has sustained back-to-back losses (not to mention a line drive off the jaw) and is being booed by the home crowd.
Whether Mattingly replaces Guerra with the overpowering but raw Kenley Jansen, one thing he won't do is tear down his players.
"That's something I learned from my dad, and I didn't realize it at the time, but my dad didn't criticize me, and I look back and that molds you as a player -- and now as a manager," said Mattingly. "To me, I was never afraid to make mistakes, and that's so important, because a lot of guys are afraid to mess up."
Mattingly has been quizzed relentlessly about his confidence in Guerra, even before the closer's erratic April, which features the contradictory team lead in saves (seven) and losses (three).
Predictably, Mattingly wouldn't be drawn into fueling a closer controversy after Wednesday night's blown save.
"I have confidence in the guy," Mattingly said. "If he has trouble, then we'll get him in a different spot. At this point, I'm not getting into a big closer thing. After two outings, if you think I'm going to flip-flop things, I'm not."
When defending Guerra, Mattingly cites the 26-year-old's experience (this is his ninth professional season), specifically the 21-for-23 in save conversions last year when he inherited the job from Jonathan Broxton. Guerra also has shown to be resilient, both mentally and physically. Jansen's arm seems to need more time to bounce back from long outings.
While Mattingly's refusal to trash players doesn't provide the New York-style headlines that were so much a part of his playing days with the Yankees, it's probably as much a reason as any why he's credited with keeping the Dodgers focused through a rough first half last year in his rookie season as Joe Torre's replacement.
Mattingly didn't panic and kept a steady hand, despite the ownership chaos that prevented the club from aggressively improving the roster. He was rewarded by a club that played .616 ball after July 7 and went 25-10 over the final 35 games.
"I never forget how hard this game is to play," Mattingly said. "For me, a lot of my job is teaching. I have an understanding of how the game works, the ebbs and flows of a season. You struggle at times, you go good at times.
"I take a lot from how coaches treated me. I had coaches, when you're going bad, they don't talk to you, and when you're good, there they are again. I will never be like that, and the players know that. A lot of them saw that when I was hitting coach. I'm there all the time -- as long as you work. I know they'll struggle, and as long as they work hard, I'll have patience."
Mattingly wouldn't address it specifically, but lack of hard work is the reason the Dodgers cut loose backup catcher Dioner Navarro last year.
A former All-Star and switch-hitting catcher, Navarro wouldn't put in extra time to improve his game, which was lacking both offensively and defensively. He was released in August and replaced by A.J. Ellis, now the starter who continues to bolster an overachiever image with a solid .828 OPS while throwing out 5 of 14 (36 percent) basestealers.
"What I like best about this team is that it played hard all year long, even when we were playing bad, and we got momentum in the second half and took it into Spring Training and into this season," said Mattingly. "I want what's best for them and I try to be honest. I lay out the expectations so they know what we want from them. If it doesn't go right, I'll be patient."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.