Mattingly discusses high expectations, Kemp's health

Dodgers' skipper seeks improved consistency with talent-loaded roster

Mattingly discusses high expectations, Kemp's health

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When Dodgers pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training on Saturday, manager Don Mattingly had some discouraging news about outfielder Matt Kemp.

"It doesn't look like he'll be ready for Australia," Mattingly said of Kemp, who is on a conservative rehab program after serious ankle surgery. "He hasn't run outside."

The update on Kemp, although not a surprise, was the rare downer in Mattingly's first media briefing of camp, in which he said he welcomed the high expectations that come with a $230 million payroll and an NL Championship Series elimination.

"It's good to have it," he said of being favored to win. "It's there and it should be there. We had to deal with it last year. They are realistic expectations. We have a talented club and we're capable."

The Dodgers made relatively minor tweaks to the roster during the winter, but Mattingly said the addition of Dan Haren as No. 4 starter Rickey Nolasco's replacement is being overlooked.

"To me, that was a huge pickup," he said. "We've had to prepare [to face him] so many times. The guy's not a fun at-bat. His problems last year were mechanical and he got back to his old self in the second half. I'm excited about having another quality guy."

Mattingly said he seeks improved consistency this year and not a repeat of the last-to-first comeback that was required in last year's stunning turnaround.

"You can't count on winning 42 of 50," Mattingly said of last year's surge. "You don't want to get in position where you have to win 42 of 50 to get back in the thing. We need to be more consistent. I see it as winning every series and you'll be in pretty good shape. The next thing you know, you're 20 over [.500]."

Mattingly confirmed that he's considering batting Yasiel Puig leadoff this year "because I like to get him extra at-bats," drawing a comparison to when Mike Trout bats leadoff for the Angels.

"You think you know what he can be, a middle of the order guy who's capable of hitting 30 homers and hit for average and you don't want to waste that, but you don't know when," he said. "It could be this year, another year, you're not sure."

Mattingly said moving Carl Crawford down to second in the order was not an attempt to protect Crawford's hamstrings, which put the outfielder on the disabled list and nagged him all season. "Carl did a nice job [leading of]," Mattingly said. "I heard somebody [on the radio] say Carl doesn't want to bat leadoff. He's never said that once. I hate hearing them spit out old news. I don't think [batting second] protects his legs. Giving him days off will protect his legs. If he's healthy, he's going to want to run. He had two hammys, but by the end of the season his body told us he wanted to run."

Mattingly downplayed concern over the uncertainty at second base, where the Dodgers expected Cuban signing Alex Guerrero to step in for Mark Ellis, who left as a free agent and signed with St. Louis.

The Dodgers have collected a handful of fallback options -- Chone Figgins, Justin Turner, Dee Gordon, Justin Sellers, Brendan Harris and Miguel Rojas -- but Mattingly issued a solid endorsement of Guerrero, a natural shortstop still learning to play second base.

"The guys our scouts have told us are able to play, are able to play," he said. "I think Alex will be able to play and I'm pretty confident Alex will be OK. They haven't missed by much. He has great hands, he's played short, he's athletic with a great attitude and he works hard. Is there a timetable? Will he be there Day One? We'll see. In general, we think the guy can play and he's going to be good."

Mattingly said he was equally upbeat about a bench that has jettisoned veterans like Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker.

"I like [competition]," he said. "Yasiel came last year and it set up good competition. I like that. I don't like when just about every spot on the roster is set and everyone knows it. I like competition, fight to show what you can do. I'm excited about that."

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