The Major League baseball channel annually begins spring training with a variety of programs dealing with the sport.
A few days ago the network’s experts ranked the top 10 managers. Don Mattingly didn’t make the list.
Mattingly has earned a lot of respect after succeeding Joe Torre, a baseball legend, as the Dodgers’ manager.
But, clearly, he’s entering a new phase of his job – guiding a team in 2013 with the highest payroll in baseball history while working on the last year of his contract.
By usual standards, there would be no reason for Mattingly to feel pressure. He gets high marks from a lot of people in the sport.
But it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the new Dodger owners to expect excellence considering their investment.
Never mind that Mattingly has to mold a team with a lot of newcomers. And never mind that the Dodgers’ primary rivals – the San Francisco Giants – are the defending World Series champions.
We’ll see if the Dodgers give Mattingly a new contract during the season, but whatever happens Mattingly insists his status isn’t going to be a distraction.
He feels there will be enough distractions without the manager being another one. He’s plunging into the job.
Exhibition games started a few days ago and Mattingly is already trying some new things.
Hanley Ramirez, a highly regarded shortstop who came to the Dodgers midway through last season, had trouble connecting with Clayton Kershaw on a pickoff play at second base the other day.
“I want him to work on that,” said Mattingly. ‘It’s a matter of timing and we didn’t have a chamce to work on that very much last season. It’s the kind of thing you can perfect in spring training.”
Mattingly tried another experiment last week, playing third baseman Juan Uribe at first base, where he might back up Adrian Gonzalez.
Mattingly has some other important tasks. He must determine when injured outfielders matt Kemp and Carl Crawford will be ready for full-time duty. The Dodgers will greatly benefit from having them both in the lineup but don’t want to rush them back before the injuries heal.
Then there’s tha matter of choosing the starting rotation from seven qualified pitchers. And most likely deciding to trade some of the ones who aren’t picked.
A panel on the Baseball Channel reported that their poll of big league managers revealed almost 100 percent said the most important time of the season is the six weeks of spring training.
So that’s where Mattingly is right now. But on April 1 the pressure will increase as the Dodgers open the season against the Giants.