Manager Don Mattingly benched right fielder Andre Ethier, lashed out at his players’ lack of mental toughness and questioned upper management’s roster construction in comments to reporters before Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee.
Either Mattingly spoke with the blessing of general manager Ned Colletti, team president Stan Kasten and the club’s new ownership, or his words amounted to an angry, desperate stand from a man who knows he soon might lose his job.
One rival GM said it had to be the latter, finding it difficult to believe that upper management would endorse criticism of its own strategies.
“He’s trying to get himself fired,” the GM said upon learning of Mattingly’s comments.
Mattingly rarely is as candid or expansive as he was during his session with reporters before Wednesday's 9-2 win. His remarks offered a glimpse of his frustration with a team that is failing to meet high expectations.
Still, even if the Dodgers dismiss Mattingly, the issues that he raised with his remarks are not going away.
Ethier, 31, is in the first year of a five-year, $85 million extension. But Mattingly benched Ethier on Wednesday in favor of Scott Van Slyke, saying he wanted to put out his “most competitive lineup” and one that would “fight the hardest.”
Even more damning, Mattingly echoed what many other observers have said about not only about the Dodgers, but also other teams that essentially try to buy a World Series title.
It’s difficult to do.
“We gotta find a team with talent that will fight and compete like a club that doesn’t have talent,” Mattingly said. “I felt we got more out of our ability last year. I don’t know about being tougher, but I felt we got more out of our ability.
“There has to be a mixture of competitiveness. It’s not, ‘Let’s put an All-Star team together and the All-Star team wins.’ It’s finding that balance of a team that has a little bit of grit and will fight you. And also having talent to go with it.
“All grit and no talent isn’t going to make you successful. But all talent and no grit is not going to get you there, either.”
The Dodgers have increased their payroll to $217 million with a series of blockbuster moves under their new ownership. But they entered Wednesday in last place in the National League West, seven games out of first place with an 18-26 record.
Ethier, batting .264 with four homers and a .758 OPS, isn’t the team’s only problem. But he was the subject of persistent trade rumors last offseason — rumors denied by Colletti — and the Dodgers have a potentially exciting alternative at Double-A, outfielder Yasiel Puig.
Will Mattingly ever manage Puig, the Cuban defector who caused a sensation with his performance in spring training? The question remains open. Colletti and Kasten have declined to address Mattingly’s future in recent days.
The Dodgers are off Thursday and then begin a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium on Friday.
One thing is clear: The tension surrounding this team isn’t going away.