Don of new era: Dodgers follow Mattingly's lead

Don of new era: Dodgers follow Mattingly's lead

LOS ANGELES -- When Joe Torre effectively dismissed himself last September and handed the reins of the Dodgers to Don Mattingly, he said the club needed a different voice, a younger voice.

With the new manager embarking on his first Opening Day in charge, is the Mattingly message getting through?

"I don't know if it's a younger voice, but one that relates to younger people is great, and Donnie has that," first baseman James Loney said. "You can have an older person who relates to younger people, and you can have a younger person who doesn't relate. For Joe to say that, he probably felt that."

Mattingly and his rebuilt coaching staff ran an efficient training camp that hammered fundamentals. But now comes the hard part -- winning -- starting at 5 p.m. PT on Thursday when the Dodgers face the Giants, the first time the Dodgers have opened against a defending World Series champion since they moved to Los Angeles.

Opening Day results: March 31 | April 1
Complete coverage
Sign up for MLB.TV | Get At Bat 11
Day begins in grand style | Fan's guide
Opening Day videos

Mattingly is still a complete unknown when it comes to game management. He has a team that finished fourth last year, one that he said "splintered" as things went south immediately after the All-Star break. He spoke often this spring about the "toughness" the Dodgers didn't show last season.

"When we hit storms, we didn't stay together," Mattingly said. "We didn't keep our minds on what we were trying to accomplish. We didn't play with a purpose and a direction, and when you're not all going in the same direction, you're in trouble. It doesn't matter how talented you are."

That said, just how talented are the Dodgers? The rotation is deep (as long as Vicente Padilla and Jon Garland return quickly), with Clayton Kershaw the ace that opponents don't want to face, followed by Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda. If Jonathan Broxton rebounds and Hong-Chih Kuo stays healthy, the bullpen will be solid, even with the disappearance of Ronald Belisario.

But the lineup? Mattingly said if the core players stay healthy and do what they've done well in the past, that will be enough.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Projected Opening Day lineup
1 SS Rafael Furcal
2 LF Tony Gwynn
3 RF Andre Ethier
4 CF Matt Kemp
5 1B James Loney
6 3B Juan Uribe
8 C Rod Barajas
7 2B Jamey Carroll
9 P Clayton Kershaw
Projected rotation
1 LHP Clayton Kershaw
2 RHP Chad Billingsley
3 LHP Ted Lilly
4 RHP Hiroki Kuroda
5 RHP Tim Redding or John Ely *
Projected bullpen
CL RHP Jonathan Broxton
SU LHP Hong-Chih Kuo
SU RHP Kenley Jansen
MI RHP Blake Hawksworth
MI RHP Matt Guerrier
MI RHP Mike MacDougal
MI LHP Scott Elbert or RHP Lance Cormier
*- Replacing Jon Garland (oblique strain)
Full 25-man roster | Depth chart
That means Rafael Furcal must stay healthy, which he hasn't done in recent years. It means Matt Kemp returns to the projectable five-tool star that jumped the rails last year. It means Andre Ethier stays healthy and focused and Loney doesn't disappear in the second half, the left-field platoon of Marcus Thames and Co. can provide the production that Manny Ramirez could not and Rod Barajas can hold up better than Russell Martin.

The only major hitting acquisition was Juan Uribe, taken from the same Giants, a two-time ring winner hired to play second base but will start the season at third with Casey Blake injured.

Blake (back), Padilla (forearm surgery), Garland (oblique), Jay Gibbons (vision problems) and Dioner Navarro (oblique) open the season on the disabled list, but each is expected back in weeks, not months.

Mattingly keeps saying, "I like my club," expressing confidence in an offense that struggled scoring last year and this spring. Nonetheless, his enthusiasm is rubbing off.

"We've got big bats," Kemp said. "People don't realize we've got guys through the lineup that can hit 20 home runs. Marcus Thames, Andre Ethier, Casey Blake when he's healthy, Rod Barajas. We shouldn't have any problem scoring runs.

"Loney can hit 20 home runs. I know for a fact he can drive in 100. We've got a good team, I know. I have faith in our team. I'm excited. I think we match up with anybody in MLB. I'm not worried."

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