Don Mattingly is under severe pressure as Dodgers manager

Don Mattingly was in no mood to celebrate his fifty-second birthday. After a difficult week for his tailspinning Dodgers, Donnie Baseball is beginning to divide fan opinion more than ever. Now, it is becoming essential for Dodgers fans to have an opinion on Don Mattingly. Some believing the burden of offseason investment means he must win now, while others are satisfied that he is slowly developing this ballclub. However one breaks it down, Don Mattingly is a manager under pressure.

After limping into Baltimore hoping to improve a dreary interleague record, the Dodgers only succeeded in digging a deeper hole for themselves. The postponement of Friday’s game necessitated a rare Saturday doubleheader. For Los Angeles’ fans, it made for a double-dose of anguish - the Orioles winning both ends to dump the Dodgers six games back in this formative NL West. It was the sixth straight loss for the most-expensive team in LA Dodgers history.

Even to a Mattingly supporter, it is obvious he makes things difficult for himself. An example ripe for analysis was provided during the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, when Donnie left Josh Beckett with the ball during a close 3-1 game despite a pitch count exceeding 100 and two men reaching base. No sooner had he returned to the dugout than Manny Machado clubbed a game-changing three-run homer to left field. Such are the margins that change games, lose games and - yes - get managers fired.

After the game, Mattingly again spoke of his concern. This is becoming a little tedious, passive words rather than active verbs. The responsibility is upon him to find the solutions and change the fortunes of this failing team, not merely to sit before the media and share our surprise.

In many respects, the first doubleheader game was a microcosm of this young Dodgers season. Los Angeles mustered plenty of baserunners yet lacked any semblance of situational hitting to bring them home. With Hyun-Jin Ryu somewhat indifferent on the mound and an untrustworthy bullpen, the offence needed to manufacture. It never did.

I worry that Mattingly does not have the fire to get this ballclub charging. Earlier in the week, when the Dodgers were dismally swept at home by San Diego for the first time since July 2006, we watched the game just yearning for something different!

At times, a manager must try a new idea, mix-in a new strategy where possible. A manager must stimulate and generate production from his players. As the Dodgers were outscored 22-7 by the lowly Padres across three painful games, no change in approach was forthcoming. Mattingly has got to do more.

I like certain aspects of Mattingly’s management. When times were lean and his major decisions surrounded whether to hit Aaron Miles or Juan Uribe at cleanup, Mattingly did a sensational job keeping the Dodgers competitive. I’m a big believer in steady progression and Donnie has delivered that with a year-on-year improvement in wins. However, I yearn for this to continue with the next step: hauling the Los Angeles Dodgers back into October. Such a poor start may hamper their chances.

Even on Jackie Robinson Day, the Dodgers remained stuck in the same one-dimensional mode. Chad Billingsley lived a little dangerously around the strike zone but was good enough to win, had the bullpen not allowed three late runs to again seep through. At the time, we were a little disappointed at a 7-6 season record, blissfully unaware of the horrors awaiting.

The reality is sobering. This Dodgers team will take the field in a few hours looking to avoid being swept for the second time in succession. Such failure is never tolerated under the illustrious Dodgers name, but it becomes even more exacerbated after huge financial expenditure.

We can say ‘it’s only April’ for just nine more days. Don Mattingly needs to create a winning formula, and fast.

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