As Don Mattingly sits in the Marlins Park dugout and holds court with the media before the Marlins’ Tuesday night game, he looks as comfortable as a man talking about the weather with his next-door neighbor.
Mattingly has spent plenty of time in a major-league clubhouse, but he seems especially at ease in South Florida, where the Marlins entered play Friday at 18-15, winners of 13 of their past 17 after a 5-11 start.
“I think their timing is good,” Mattingly said of his ballclub. “The whole situation is good ... they’ve got a lot of guys that are young but have been here for a while.”
The timing has also worked out well for Mattingly, who accepted the Marlins job this offseason a week after he and the Los Angeles Dodgers mutually agreed to part ways. Early on, Mattingly’s methods appear to be working, as the club has shaken off a slow start and continues to play well despite an 80-game suspension to second baseman and leadoff hitter Dee Gordon.
“He’s so respected in a clubhouse, because he’s been a winning guy ever since he was a player,” infielder Miguel Rojas said of Mattingly, who he played for in Los Angeles during the 2014 season. “Now, as a coach, he’s been showing everybody he can win with his mentality to be ready to compete every day.”
Mattingly’s first year with the Marlins marks his 27th with a big-league club. He spent 18 years with the Yankees, 14 as a player and then, after a nine-year hiatus, four more as a coach under Joe Torre. After the 2007 season, he followed Torre to Los Angeles and coached under him there for three seasons before being promoted to manager in 2011. In his five years in charge, Mattingly’s Dodgers never finished with a losing record and reached the postseason in his last three years.
“I think he seems very comfortable here,” said bench coach Tim Wallach, who coached under Mattingly in Los Angeles and followed him to Miami. “It’s fun to be around him and watch him interact with these guys and watch them play hard for him.”
The Marlins are playing hard for Mattingly, and they’ve responded well to the lineup changes he’s made. Marcell Ozuna opened the season in the second spot in the batting order, but hit only .229 in the two-hole. Mattingly moved Ozuna down to sixth in the lineup, where the center fielder has hit .391. He enters Friday’s game on an 11-game hitting streak.
“You learn about your guys,” Mattingly said of the first month of the season. “Seeing them daily, how they get ready ... how they react to different situations.”
When Mattingly moved Ozuna from second to sixth, he moved third baseman Martin Prado up to the two-hole. Prado had been off to a hot start, hitting .343 out of the fifth spot in the lineup, but he’s hit .405 from the second spot and raised his season average to .386, second in the National League.
“I don’t think it matters to him,” Mattingly said last week when asked if the lineup flipping had anything to do with Prado’s performance. “The two-hole doesn’t make the hitter ... the hitter makes wherever you put him good.”
As Wallach explains why he thinks the Marlins have taken to Mattingly, it appears Mattingly’s answer to the Prado question is part of the reason.
“He’s never going to throw any of [his players] under the bus,” Wallach said. “He’s always behind them and got their back ... he’s got the kind of patience that you need to be in this game.”
Rojas said Mattingly has his back, but gives him and his teammates some much-appreciated wiggle room.
“This club’s got a lot of talent, and he knows it,” Rojas said. “He’s giving us the opportunity to be ourselves and to be the club we can be.”
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The Marlins are certainly themselves after victories, as the clubhouse is transformed into a nightclub atmosphere, with strobe lights flashing and fog machines humming. There have been plenty of postgame parties recently, but that hasn’t changed Mattingly’s temperament.
“Whether we’re winning or losing, he stays right here,” catcher Jeff Mathis said of his manager. “I think that’s good for a lot of these young guys in the clubhouse.”
Mattingly’s disposition doesn’t fluctuate from game to game, and Rojas says it hasn’t from job to job either.
“He’s the same guy,” Rojas said. “It doesn’t matter where he is or what group of guys he’s got around ... he’s the same guy trying to preach the same thing.”
Mattingly may not have changed, but his arrival appears to have had an early impact on his new team. The man who feels at home on the dugout steps is preaching, and his club is listening, a combination the Marlins hope will lead to more victories, and perhaps eventually some champagne to go with those strobe lights and fog machines.
MARLINS ADD VETERAN RELIEVER
With no left-hander in their bullpen at the moment, the Marlins signed veteran southpaw Joe Beimel to a minor-league deal in an effort to shore up a weak area.
Beimel, 39, will report to extended spring camp in Jupiter, as first reported by MLB.com.
A veteran of 13 big-league seasons, Beimel last pitched in the majors with Seattle last season, appearing in 53 games while going 2-1 with a 3.99 ERA. Overall, he has appeared in 676 major-league games, all but 23 out of the bullpen.
The Marlins are awaiting the return of left-hander Mike Dunn, who has been on the disabled list with a forearm strain since before the start of the season. Dunn isn’t expected to return until the end of this month or the first part of June.
The Marlins left themselves without a lefty when Craig Breslow was designated for assignment on Wednesday.
Miami Herald sportswriter Clark Spencer contributed to this report.