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Ethier, Kemp entrusted to lead Dodgers' offense

Ethier, Kemp entrusted to lead Dodgers' offense

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Ethier, Kemp entrusted to lead Dodgers' offense
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Most of the money the Dodgers spent on free agents this winter went for pitching. Aside from the $21 million they committed to infielder Juan Uribe, they only tinkered on the margins of the offense.

That's because it's really up to Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp. One day before he addresses the full squad for the first time as manager, Don Mattingly said Monday he plans to bat Ethier third and Kemp fourth and keep them there "all year long."

Both are coming off troubled seasons. Ethier, on fire until he broke his right pinkie finger in a batting-practice mishap, tried to play hurt and never was the same. Kemp had a series of problems, from being called out by the general manager to a benching for not hustling, and wound up batting almost 50 points lower than 2009.

In the wake of that, Mattingly has taken over for Joe Torre; coaches Larry Bowa and Mariano Duncan were dismissed and Bob Schaefer left; and new to the staff are Davey Lopes, Tim Wallach, Trey Hillman and Dave Hansen.

Regarding Kemp, Mattingly said the center fielder "didn't let anybody down" last year.

"As a coaching staff we could have handled things differently, and he has to take part of the responsibility also and he did that," he said. "From there, last year is gone and we're moving forward, trying to help him become the best player he can be."

Mattingly said that with the potential Kemp undoubtedly possesses comes the pressure to live up to expectations.

"It's also a curse," he said. "We want it all."

Mattingly said Kemp can handle the pressure of batting fourth, even though his combined on-base and slugging percentage last year was 155 points higher batting third than fourth.

"He gives us the best chance to win if he does what he's capable of," Mattingly said.

Mattingly indicted his entire ballclub while defusing the notion that Lopes (a longtime friend of Kemp's agent, former Dodger Dave Stewart) was brought in specifically to work with Kemp.

"[Lopes] was brought in because our baserunning has been horrible and Davey is the best in the business," Mattingly said. "It's not just stealing a bag. The whole tone with which we've run the bases has not been good enough."

As for Ethier, Mattingly raved about the right fielder's offensive skills and work ethic and projected him as a potential team leader.

"He works hard, he cares," said Mattingly. "Last year he said there was confusion [about being a leader]; he didn't know how to do it. I explained that you don't have to do anything but play hard every day. You don't have to say a word. That speaks volumes. He gets into modes where he feels like he can't play the game and that's amazing to me, [that] with his ability he gets down like that. He beats himself up."

Mattingly said Ethier can take a lesson from Yankees leader Derek Jeter.

"He never screams," said Mattingly, who coached Jeter on Torre's Yankees staff. "But the reason the Yankees have been what they've been since he's gotten there, I've felt, is all because of Jeter. They've had a lot of players, but he's been that guy. He's good-looking, the Miss America thing and all that and you think he's not tough. This is the toughest guy I've been around. When you're the best player and you play the hardest, that's leadership. All Andre has to do is play hard every day. This guy is as talented as anybody out there. He can flat-out hit, capable of hitting anybody. He doesn't have to take on a role or do anything different."

Mattingly said he's still thinking about Casey Blake as a No. 2 hitter behind leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal. That would likely mean James Loney following Kemp, with Uribe sixth, the left-field platoon of Marcus Thames/Jay Gibbons seventh and the catching platoon of Rod Barajas/Dioner Navarro eighth.

But he also again said he wants to give the 37-year-old Blake more time off this year.

"In his situation, sometimes if you play less you produce more," he said.

Mattingly conceded the defense of his left-field platoon is iffy, but he sees the potential for 20 to 25 home runs.

"I like those two guys," Mattingly said. "They give us the chance to give us something we missed last year, to hit the ball in the seats."

As of Monday, the only players who have not reported to camp are Ronald Belisario (whose status is unclear) and non-roster infielder Eugenio Velez, who missed a flight.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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