LOS ANGELES -- Don Mattingly did not expect to return to the Dodgers organization in a full-time capacity until next season when he stepped aside in January for personal reasons for a reduced role as a special hitting instructor. But now that he feels comfortable with how his 16-year-old son Jordan is doing in the aftermath of Mattingly's divorce, the former Yankee feels the time is right for his post-All-Star break return to the hitting coach position the Dodgers hired him for in November. Mattingly, 47, will be charged with the task of punching up an offense that has struggled in the first half. The Dodgers rank in the bottom five of the National League in most major offensive categories entering Saturday, most importantly ranking No. 13 in the NL in runs at 4.1 per game.
More telling, Los Angeles (45-48) has lost 27 games this season when scoring one or no runs. When the Dodgers hit poorly, Mattingly said he sees the teams making easy outs during quick at-bats where players appear to be going to the plate "without a real plan," an area he says "needs a major improvement." "Let's have a better approach," Mattingly said in a phone interview. "Let's have a little better idea of what this guy's trying to do to us. Let's have a little better idea of how we need to attack this guy and hopefully have an understanding of your own swing that you know how you want to attack him. "I'd really like to help us improve in that area of, 'Let's make it a little tougher on this guy getting us out.' If I can do that or not remains to be seen." Mattingly expects his impact to be felt most on the team's young hitters, saying veterans like Jeff Kent and Nomar Garciaparra "know what they're doing" and just need a little help with maintenance. "It's the younger guys that need subtle help, not necessarily just with their swing, but the approach and how we're attacking this guy and why, and just help their progress to be better hitters," Mattingly said. Mattingly favors a patient approach as a coach, and he expects to work hard just like he did as a player. He believes every time a hitter steps in the cage they should be going in with a purpose to get better instead of just going up there and hacking. Mattingly practiced what he will be preaching during his 13-year career as a Yankee during which he compiled a .307 batting average to go with 222 homers and 1,099 RBIs. He also made six All-Star teams and won the 1985 American League MVP Award when he hit 35 homers and drove in a league-high 145 runs. "I try to look at all sides of hitting and what the pitcher can do, what he can't do, what you're capable of doing, try to mold all these together and then have a patience with the game itself," said Mattingly, the Yankees' batting coach under current Dodgers manager Joe Torre with the Yankees from 2004-06. "All the recipes for success and hitting and consistency, I feel I have a decent understanding of those and try to put it all together." Having experienced 11 managerial changes while with the Yankees, Mattingly understands coaching changes can be disruptive to a ballclub, although this move is a bit different than Los Angeles' other eight hitting-coach changes in the past 11 years in that Mattingly worked with the club during Spring Training and on select road trips near his Midwest home of Evansville, Ind. "It's probably not necessarily a good thing, honestly," Mattingly said of coaching changes in general. "I played a lot of years with the Yankees, it seems like we had a new manager every year. I always thought that was detrimental to the progress of the organization and the team, because you always feel like it's going to be somebody new next year." Mattingly went on to say Torre became a stabilizing force in New York, keeping the Yankees job for 12 years before coming to the Dodgers this season. The plan in Los Angeles is for Mattingly to have a similar stabilizing effect on the revolving door known as the Dodgers' hitting coach position, but for now, he just hopes to help the young Dodgers bring a better approach to the plate. "Hopefully it's a situation that we can get better, just continually get better, and you'd like to see young players, you know they're going have their struggles and they're going to be impatient at times, things like that, but you would like to see progress," Mattingly said.
Michael Schwartz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.