Joe Torre offers support for umpires in his return to Dodger Stadium

Joe Torre was back at Dodger Stadium to see the guys in blue.

The umpires, that is.

“That’s really the team that I root for now,” Torre said Sunday morning outside the Dodgers’ clubhouse.

The former Dodgers manager who now serves as Major League Baseball’s vice president of baseball operations said he wanted umpires to feel as much a part of the game as players and vowed to do everything he could to support them.

“We’ve pretty much isolated umpires from being a part of this game because they’re always out there and easy to criticize, and I just didn’t think that was right,” Torre said.


Asked if he had spoken with the Dodgers about the controversial balk recently called on pitcher Jon Garland, Torre said he couldn’t comment.

But he was happy to talk about Don Mattingly, his hand-picked successor as Dodgers manager.

“It’s funny because I’ll call and [Mattingly will] say, ‘What did I do wrong?’ ” said Torre, who managed the Dodgers from 2008 to 2010. “And I said, ‘No, I’m just calling to check in.’ ”

Torre predicted Mattingly would quickly join the upper echelon of managers because of his superior communication skills, among other traits.

“He’s going to have to experience some things and work on the feel for things,” Torre said, “but that’s just from experience. You can’t teach that stuff.”

As for his new role, Torre, 70, called it “very energizing,” saying he was able to make his own schedule for the first time in his professional career.

Though he plans to shuttle between his Southern California home and baseball’s offices in New York, Torre said he would spend most of his time on the East Coast for the next several months.

“My wife, I’m not sure she’s happy I’m enjoying this,” Torre said.

Time for Sands?

Top outfield prospect Jerry Sands crept into Mattingly’s mind even before the Dodgers spent the first two weeks of the season mired in an offensive funk.

“It’s been hard enough not thinking about Jerry for me since [the Arizona Fall League], seeing the things he can do and then seeing him in spring training,” Mattingly said of the 23-year-old, who hit .400 with five home runs and 17 runs batted in in his first 10 games with triple-A Albuquerque.

Did Sands’ name come up during Mattingly’s postgame meeting Saturday with General Manager Ned Colletti and player development chief DeJon Watson?

“I’ve heard his name,” Mattingly said. “It’s hard not to hear his name right now.”

Please disperse

The announced crowd of 27,439 on Sunday was the smallest at Dodger Stadium since Sept. 29, 2004, when the Dodgers drew 27,287 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Dodgers averaged 32,405 fans for the four-game series against St. Louis, 15,729 fewer than they did for their season-opening series against San Francisco.

The attendance of 129,623 for the series against the Cardinals was the smallest for a four-game series at Dodger Stadium since the Dodgers drew 124,392 for a series against the Colorado Rockies from July 21-24, 2003.

Innings eater

Vicente Padilla gave up two hits and one run in one inning for Class-A Rancho Cucamonga in his first rehabilitation appearance since being sidelined with pain in his surgically repaired arm. He had one walk and one strikeout.

Padilla is scheduled to pitch another inning Tuesday and could join the Dodgers’ bullpen later in the week.