Don Mattingly Says Marlins Can Win Even With Small Payroll

Spring Training begins for the Marlins

Even after 25 years in a major league uniform, Don Mattingly still gets butterflies.

He had them Friday because he had to give a speech. The new Miami Marlins manager welcomed pitchers and catchers on the first day of spring training, and said he sweated the preparation.

"That first day, those talks are not that much fun," Mattingly said. "There was a lot of paper in my trash can _ 'I don't want to say that,' or 'That's too much.' And then you wake up the next morning and go, 'That sounds so stupid. What are you doing?' And you start all over."

Mattingly made it through his speech, but that doesn't mean his job now gets easier. He's taking over a team that is on its seventh manager since June 2010 and hasn't been to the playoffs since 2003.

But Marlins camp is just like the 29 others in one regard: Expectations are high.

"If you put our roster next to the Royals roster or the Cardinals roster, those teams that are there every year, at each position we're better or as good," pitcher Jarred Cosart said. "It's a matter of putting it together."

Mattingly, who led the Dodgers to the playoffs each of the past three seasons, said he wouldn't have accepted the job with the Marlins if he didn't think they could win. He's optimistic even with their perennially modest payroll of less than $80 million, compared with the Dodgers' $270 million last year.

"I'm excited to be here with this club, and looking forward to seeing what we can become," Mattingly said. "We're pretty proud of our guys, honestly, and we'll see if there's a reason for that."

The starting lineup returns intact for a team that won only 71 games in 2015 and ranked next to last in the majors in runs. But there's considerable potential with slugger Giancarlo Stanton, NL batting champion Dee Gordon, Christian Yelich and two players who showed promise as rookies, Justin Bour and J.T. Realmuto.

Most of Mattingly's decisions in spring training will involve the pitching staff. Ace Jose Fernandez, newcomer Wei-Yin Chen and Tom Koehler are slated to start, but at least five pitchers will battle for the other two spots in the rotation. The best competition may be between hard-throwing Carter Capps and incumbent A.J. Ramos for the closer's job.

Spring also will be a time for players to get comfortable with Mattingly and his staff, which includes steroids-tainted home run king Barry Bonds, who is beginning his first season as a hitting coach.

Mattingly said his locker room speech _ which he'll expand upon before the first full-squad workout Tuesday _ focused on his expectations.

"I want them to trust me," he said. "I'll have their back as long as they work. It's hard to back a guy who doesn't work."

That sounded good to Koehler, but it's just a start.

"The meeting today was great _ very positive," Koehler said. "We all have a respect for Don as the player he was. Now we have to learn Donnie the manager, and that's going to take time."

Mattingly said his celebrity as a former first baseman for the New York Yankees won't carry much cache with his players, because he figures most don't even know he was an accomplished player. But he may be selling his reputation short.

Fernandez, who was 3 years old and living in Cuba when Mattingly retired in 1995, is nonetheless impressed to be playing for a six-time All-Star.

"It's incredible," Fernandez said. "He was a great player. We all know that. And so far he's a great guy. I feel like I have a friend there. It's a great feeling to play for somebody you look up to."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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