Don Mattingly believes Dodgers are a more cohesive team

Don Mattingly believes Dodgers are a more cohesive team
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly thinks Dodgers defense can offset the loss of Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez. (Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press)

Don Mattingly thinks the Dodgers can offset the departures of Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez with their improved defense, but won't say whether they are a better team now than they were last season.

"We'll see," Mattingly said Wednesday


The Dodgers won 94 games in 2014. They were the champions of a division that included the San Francisco Giants, who went on to win the World Series.

Back at Dodger Stadium for a development camp for the organization's top prospects, the manager said that the Dodgers lost some offensive firepower when Kemp was traded to the San Diego Padres and Ramirez signed with the Boston Red Sox.

"I think there are always concerns when you lose Matt Kemp," Mattingly said. "You're losing a guy who was a tremendous offensive player for us last year the second half of the season. Hanley, tremendous offensive player."

But Mattingly said the Dodgers probably won't have to score as much as they did last season to win games, pointing to a new middle infield with Jimmy Rollins at shortstop and Howie Kendrick at second base. Rollins will replace the defensively limited Ramirez and Kendrick figures to be an upgrade from Dee Gordon, who was traded to the Miami Marlins.

By trading Kemp, another below-average defender, the Dodgers can move rookie Joc Pederson into center field and return Yasiel Puig to right.

Mattingly thinks the Dodgers have a team that can better compete in the kinds of low-scoring environments they will encounter in the playoffs.

"Over 162 games, you think that the team that's the best over that time is going to win," Mattingly said. "When you get into five games, seven games, that's a different thing. It's a different mentality of how do we get on base, how do we put the ball in play? We have to catch everything."

Mattingly also sounded optimistic about his team's reconfigured bullpen, which replaced the likes of Brian Wilson and Chris Perez with a group that includes Joel Peralta, Chris Hatcher and Juan Nicasio.

Without mentioning Kemp and Ramirez specifically, Mattingly talked about the challenges he faced last season as he tried to manage a team with several oversized personalities. The current construction of the roster, he implied, could alleviate some of those problems.

"I think the pieces fit together more as a baseball team than a collection of talent," Mattingly said.

One source of tension last season was Mattingly's decision to take Kemp out of his preferred position in center field.

In the wake of Kemp's trade to the Padres, Mattingly reached out to the two-time All-Star. He never heard back.

"It doesn't necessarily bother me," Mattingly said. "I'm not sure Matt ever got the text, to be honest. Guys change phone numbers like they change underwear."

Mattingly said he also didn't receive a response from Ramirez.

Even with Kemp and Ramirez playing elsewhere, there could be conflicts in the clubhouse.

Mattingly said he expects Andre Ethier to be on the team when spring training opens next month. While Ethier will have a chance to win a place in the lineup, he'll probably be on the bench again if the Dodgers make Pederson their everyday center fielder. Ethier said this off-season that he wants to start, whether it's with the Dodgers or another team.

If Pederson fails to win the job, Ethier is expected to be part of a center-field platoon that includes Chris Heisey, who was acquired from the Cincinnati Reds.

Carl Crawford is projected as the starter in left field.

As for Puig, Mattingly called on the 24-year-old to improve his focus.

"I really feel sky's the limit with Yasiel," Mattingly said. "I think Yasiel's the only one that gets in his way. … He's just got to concentrate."

Mattingly said he hasn't decided how he'll divide playing time at catcher between newcomer Yasmani Grandal and incumbent starter A.J. Ellis. Mattingly said he felt better about his potentially uncomfortable task after speaking this week to Ellis, who told him, "I just want to win."

While Clayton Kershaw championed Ellis' return and has talked about his long-time catcher's role in his success, Mattingly said he doesn't plan to designate Ellis as Kershaw's personal catcher.

"I can't say that I really favor that," Mattingly said.