Dodgers start season with new manager in Mattingly

The Dodgers head into a new season with a first-time manager and

a goal to return to the playoffs at the same time owner Frank

McCourt’s contentious divorce continues to cast a shadow over what

happens on the field.

Former Yankees star Don Mattingly replaces ex-manager Joe Torre

for a team that finished fourth in the NL West with an 80-82 record

last year and missed the postseason.

For the second straight winter, the Dodgers failed to add a big

bat to bolster an offense that was second-worst in baseball after

the All-Star break. But despite McCourt’s well-publicized financial

woes, the team committed more than $90 million in signings over the

winter, including three-year deals for pitcher Ted Lilly, who got

$33 million, and infielder Juan Uribe, who got $21 million after

leaving San Francisco.

”I feel guys are ready, guys get along, like each other,”

Mattingly said. ”So as we hit storms and what goes on during the

course of the season when you get tested, I feel good about our


The biggest unanswered question remains the team’s


In December, a judge threw out a 2004 marital property agreement

that gave Frank McCourt sole ownership of the Dodgers, clearing the

way for his ex-wife Jamie to seek half the team.

Over the winter, Frank McCourt tried to secure a $200 million

loan from Fox Television against the team’s cable TV rights.

However, commissioner Bud Selig rejected the deal.

”It doesn’t affect us at all,” Mattingly said about the

McCourts’ struggle for control of the team. ”They don’t throw it,

hit it or pitch it. If that is going to distract you, you’ve got

bigger problems.”

The Dodgers open the season Thursday at home against the Giants,

their bitter rivals who won the World Series a year ago, something

that doesn’t go over well with the Dodger faithful.

”Crazy things can happen in this division,” starting catcher

Rod Barajas said. ”If you are able to stay healthy and pitch,

that’s what is the key. We feel like we have some great arms in

here. With the guys we have here, we can do something


The Dodgers were 13-19 in spring training, as Mattingly

emphasized fundamentals. He was the team’s hitting coach the last

three seasons under Torre, who retired at age 70 after last season.

Mattingly turns 50 in April, giving the players a younger boss to

relate to.

”Donnie is great,” pitcher Clayton Kershaw said. ”He’s

positive, never says a bad thing to anybody and I think he’s good

for this club.”

Besides Kershaw, the rotation is Chad Billingsley, Lilly and

Hiroki Kuroda. Fifth starter Jon Garland (oblique) will open the

season on the disabled list.

”We’ve got a lot of depth in our starting rotation and in our

bullpen,” Billingsley said. ”Every guy in our starting rotation,

any day they go out there they have a chance to throw nine innings.

They have a lot of confidence and we have a lot of experience on

this staff, which is good. And we have Clayton, who just keeps

getting better the more times he goes out there.”

Closer Jonathan Broxton anchors a bullpen comprised of Hong-Chih

Kuo, newcomer Matt Guerrier (who signed a three-year, $12 million

deal), Kenley Jansen, Blake Hawksworth, Mike MacDougal and likely

Scott Elbert.

Also starting the season on the DL are third baseman Casey Blake

(back), catcher Dioner Navarro (oblique) and pitcher Vicente

Padilla (arm surgery), who is set to return as a reliever.

While Blake is out, Ivan DeJesus Jr. figures to get most of the

playing time at second base, with Uribe playing third. He had

career highs of 24 home runs and 85 RBIs in his second season with

the Giants.

The rest of the infielders are James Loney, Rafael Furcal, Jamey

Carroll and Aaron Miles. Hector Gimenez is the likely backup to

Barajas behind the plate.

Joining veterans Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp in the outfield are

Marcus Thames, Jay Gibbons, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Xavier Paul.

Ethier, Kemp and Loney are looking to improve their offensive

numbers after tailing off last season.

”We have a group here that is hungry to win and eager to get

back to the playoffs,” Loney said. ”It’s 162 games and you’re

going to have bad days, but it’s how you deal with those and how

you learn from your mistakes and how you help win the next


While Mattingly adjusts to being in charge and the McCourts

battle it out, many consider the best news going into the season to

be the return of 83-year-old Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully,

who will call his 62nd season with the team.