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Winter Meetings interview with Don Mattingly

Q. Don, can I throw a little nostalgia at you? I interviewed you when you were 19 years old and came to Greer Stadium. What was that year? What was it like for you to start it here?

DON MATTINGLY: For the Sounds, it was nice. Kind of the first time I got to play fairly close to home. Couple of hours away where I ended up with my parents there a lot at games, high school coach, different parts of my family were able to come see me play. Played with some pretty good players there. Willie McGee, last time we played together. So it was fun.

Q. Did you ever think you'd be a manager?

DON MATTINGLY: Not at that time. Just trying to get through. Trying to learn how to hit and trying to play. As time went on, I think I had a lot better feel the last few years of my career, started paying attention to a lot of different paying attention to the game differently. Not just from my standpoint, looking at it from what we would do there, what we do here, why we did this switch or that switch. The last few years of my career, I started thinking about it.

Q. How would you characterize the discussion so far here in Nashville?

DON MATTINGLY: Well, obviously, we've got some people that we're talking to. The meetings are always great to come to to be able to get everybody in one place. It's kind of a crazy atmosphere to see the other managers GS just to be able to watch the news. It's like a smorgasbord of baseball. It's been good.

Q. Did you speak to any good players this winter?

DON MATTINGLY: A few of them.

Q. How's Matt? Have you talked to him lately?

DON MATTINGLY: I haven't talked to him. We've texted back and forth. That's the easiest way to get to him. The reports are good. Sounds like he's doing good. Everything's on schedule at this point. Start hitting late December, January. And really should be ready to go by Spring Training to a degree, maybe not full speed. We feel like, by the end of camp, he's going to be ready to go.

Q. What about Billingsley?

DON MATTINGLY: Billingsley is as good as you can feel about it. He was able to finish his throwing program. I went to see him in Arizona after the season was over. He was there probably another three weeks to a month. Continued throwing. Ended up throwing back to backs, almost 50 pitches. He had no pain. Basically shutting down at that point, and he's back throwing again. So at this point, we feel like we've kind of dodged a bullet with him. So optimistic.

Q. Are you counting on him for your rotation?

DON MATTINGLY: Well, I think we have to at this point. Obviously, every time he put a plan together, you're also planning for injuries and knowing that you're going to have some injuries to starters or your regular players. So you're trying to build your team with some depth to protect yourself. Counting on him but also knowing that he had a fairly serious injury last year. We'll see how it goes.

Q. You said a couple of weeks ago down at Dodger Stadium, the question of Hanley came up, and you said, he needs to get better defensively, and he needs to do it. Since then, what kind of reports have you gotten on his progress?

DON MATTINGLY: Hanley is doing good. Tim Wallach has been down to the Dominican to see him. He's now playing in the Dominican. I know he wants to play in the WBC. Hanley, for me, can do anything. It's just a matter of him wanting to do it in time. We need him to put time in to be a better shortstop. That's really what we've asked him to do for the club.

Q. Is it better that he plays in WBC or better that he gets better with you guys?

DON MATTINGLY: I think, as long as he's playing, we want him to play. We were also wanting him to when Wally and Visky went down there, there were certain things we wanted him to work on. We felt some of the angles were a little flat. Just getting him back at short and getting him comfortable and putting in time. The off season is the time that you can actually make some strides. Again, I think I kind of feel like Hanley can do anything. It's just a matter of him putting some time in on it and knowing that his defense is important to us. Had a couple conversations with him. He understands. I'm looking forward to the year with him.

Q. So you're okay if he plays in WBC if he's playing shortstop?

DON MATTINGLY: Right. I would like him to be playing short. Obviously, I don't have any control over that. When you're playing for your country, it's one of those things you're going to just like he would do for us. I think he would play where we'd ask him to play. He was willing last year right away to wherever we put him, he was going to be fine with. I'm sure f you're playing for your country, you're going to play what's best for the team.

Q. But if they ask to use him somewhere else, that's not helping you, right?

DON MATTINGLY: You can still keep working. I'm not sure I don't know where he's at with having to play somewhere else. I know he wants to play short.

Q. You have a few guys playing in the WBC. Is there any concern just in terms of chemistry on your club having time away?

DON MATTINGLY: Not really. Adrian and Cruz I talked to Adrian about it last year, knowing he would probably end up playing. He really felt it helped him get a jump on the season. Getting in to game at bats right away. You concentrate differently when you're playing those games in the Spring Training. It kind of forces him to get in game mode right away. And Cruz, he plays he's played winter ball. He continues to play. We'll have some time in Spring Training to get it together, and then and those guys playing is fine.

Q. If Hanley, again, goes to the WBC but not as a third baseman, might you discourage him from going to that?

DON MATTINGLY: Well, again, it's hard to discourage a guy playing for his country. If I could, if he would listen, I would certainly talk to him because we would like him to play short.

Q. When you have to talk to a major leaguer, certainly the status of Hanley about the defense, does it gain more credibility from a guy like you who was known for his glove?

DON MATTINGLY: I don't think credibility of being able to play a little bit goes only so far. The relationships you have with guys, you build that over time, and that's like putting money in the bank. When they get to the point where they trust you, they know you have their best interests, but also the best interests of the whole group. So when you're managing, the tough thing is I want each guy to have unbelievable seasons and have great years, but also putting that in context of the whole club. Hanley working defensively, or any of our guys working defensively, guys in the outfield or whatever, it's about winning. So if they're not willing to do that, if that's not important to them, then we may have the wrong guys.

Q. Flip side of having a high payroll team is having a lot of star level players. How difficult was it to kind of assimilate so many players midseason last year. How much easier will it be going from day one with that group?

DON MATTINGLY: It was fairly I can't say tough because it's not really tough, but it just didn't seem to work very well to put I think we put a third of our roster kind of flipped after the trade deadline. Adrian, Josh, Nick, that was like a 30 day window, 35 day window. That's just different. So it will be nice to be able to get everybody in camp together. Each season you're going to build a foundation of what you believe in. The foundation of your defense, how you want to play, getting guys in shape. Everybody working together. Being able to do anything, that team building stuff that you do during the course of Spring Training, it's all fairly important to be able to put this whole group together. Last year, it was like, okay, we got all of these guys together. Let's see if we can get it to work out. It took us a while, honestly. Until like the last 10, 12 days, we didn't really play that well.

Q. Brendan League, when he was signed, even though the Giants had just won the World Series, thought that you guys would be the team to beat next season. Do you feel the same way?

DON MATTINGLY: I feel like, any time you have a payroll that's going to look like ours, people are going to put a lot of pressure on you and put a lot of expectation. I think we've got to be willing to live up to that. Obviously, the Giants had a great year last year. Watching them play through the playoffs was fairly special group. But I think we've got to be accountable to play in the game the right way, being ready, being prepared, knowing that we got it's going to be a tough road. And we don't want to be in the situation we were last year where we were kind of coming down the stretch and having to win every day just hoping for a wild card, one game playoff. That being said, there's going to be a lot of expectations, and I think we've just got to be ready for that. And just kind of take it on. People are going to I'm sure every article just about that's written will have some kind of note in our payroll. Just everything you see now, you end up seeing the payroll, where it talks about the money. But at the end of the day, from my side, we've got to put a team together. We've got to put a group together to play the game. So it's going to get back to the simplicity of doing the little things right a lot. And being able to be great at not making mistakes, being in the right spot, being sound fundamentally, being able to do all the little things that we talked about to win games. That's where that's not done with the amount of payroll. That's going to be done on the field. Guys are going to have to we're going to have to prepare them, and there will be work to do.

Q. When you were in New York, Don, as a player you talked about payroll what went with the highest payroll in the game, which you guys had, was an expectation in New York that you're just here to win the World Series, and anything falling short of that was regarded as a failure, at least by the New York ownership at that point. Is next season going to be a failure if you have the top payroll in the world and don't win the World Series?

DON MATTINGLY: It's hard to look at it like that. It's tough to win. It's tough to win the whole thing. So a lot of things have to go your way. You're in a short series, five game, seven game series, things can change quickly. But it is the feeling that you get in New York when basically coaching. Playing, it wasn't like that, but coaching it was pretty much like that. The payroll was huge. And it was like, if you didn't win it all, you had a bad year. That's kind of tough to live in. I don't think we can think like that. I think we have to think about just the grind of getting ready to play, the journey of every day, getting better, working hard, worrying about the process, not worrying about the final result. So we're going to have to really to be able to do that our guys are going to have to be ready for these questions, I think. I think we're going to get a question I can just hear fans really now. Early in the year last year, when our club would be somewhere, you'd hear one comment. As we started getting the payroll changed and got all the guys, the comments were totally different. You hear people yelling. All of a sudden, it was like these overpaid, spoiled I'm like, wow, really, in like a month's time, and guys weren't any different. That's just I think that's part of the expectation. That's part of reality. It's the way it's going to be. So we might as well be ready for it, be ready to take it head on, and just be ready for that. That's the way it's going to be. We're not going to change it.

Q. Don, when you've won two of the last three years like the Giants I have, how does that change the job ahead or the challenge ahead? Is it dealing with complacency? Is it that you're going to get the best job from every team? Does it raise expectations?


Q. No, for a team like the Giants.

DON MATTINGLY: I think everybody's going to want to play them. I think that's what happens with the better teams is that teams get ready for you. Day in and day out. And you don't get the series where somebody takes it off. Everybody's wanting a part of you. So I think that's part of the challenge.

Q. And from experience with the Yankees, was dealing with complacency an issue as far as you've won a couple. You feel like, hey, you know, feeling pretty good.

DON MATTINGLY: I just think every year is new. Every year starts over. And really what you've done in the past really is gone. We know that we're in you talk about a lot of divisions. This division that we're in is getting to be pretty nasty. San Francisco with that pitching staff and their club is going to be a good club. We're going to be a good club. Arizona, Gibby and his guys are tough. They play hard. They're a tough team to beat. San Diego's tough. I'm sure Colorado getting their guys back and healthy. They score runs. It's always crazy there. Our division really is it's getting really, really good. A lot of good pitching in our division. It's going to be a battle. I know everybody looks at the payroll and sees all these names. That doesn't get it done. So we've got a lot of work to do.

Q. Last couple years you've gone into camp with a substantially modest payroll. Now it's substantial. Does it kind of feel good you don't have to lie to yourself anymore?

DON MATTINGLY: It didn't seem like a lie early in the year last year, that first half. I think you go into camp my first year, you really know that you've got to do everything right. Everything has to kind of fall your way. You've got to stay healthy. Pretty much everything has to fall. Guys have to have career years. In a sense, last year was better early in the season because it was kind of changing it. We knew it was going to change, but it hadn't really changed at that point. I just think it's it's better, like this year will be easier from the standpoint of you go in knowing you're going to have talent. It takes X amount of talent to win. I don't have to go in and say Matt's going to have a career year. Andre's going to have to have a career year. Everyone on our club has to have a career year. That being said, you want guys to feel that hunger, that they've got to do their part of it. I think, when you have more horses, it just gives you a better chance to sustain an injury. If a guy goes down, you're still sitting there with a pretty good lineup. So I think, as you get a better club, you have more depth, and you're just able to sustain easier. That little stretch we ran into last year before the All Star break, takes us from having an eight game lead to basically being I can't remember what it was at the break. But if we had a little depth right then during that period, we would have sustained. We wouldn't have been playing like that. So then we kind of hold on to where we're at.

Q. Is the team being beat with the Giants in mind, overtaking them? They seem to have the same team coming back.

DON MATTINGLY: I don't think so. I think you always have to have an eye on how did they do it. How did all the teams do it? They end up winning. Kind of do it with pitching. I think you always start there. I think that's kind of say it every year. You're going to try to build it with pitching. It's kind of been their formula. But it's been every team's formula that wins. They did it a few years ago. They did it with pitching. The teams that have been winning, they did it with the Giants two years ago, three years ago, they did it with pitching. It's the same formula. I think we're trying to build the best club we can possibly build, knowing that we've still got even though you kind of took on a lot of payroll, I know it's a large number. But I still think we know we're not a perfect roster at this point. We've got areas that we've got to continue to shore up with our bench and having flexibility with certain guys.

Q. Do you see do you look at them as a team to beat, or do you think you're going to be the team to beat?

DON MATTINGLY: Well, I think you always have to look at the world champion as the team to beat. But I know we're going to feel like we're capable of doing it.

Q. Talked about wanting to get a No. 2 type guy wanting to complement Kershaw at the top of the rotation. Do you see that as a priority?

DON MATTINGLY: Our pitching was pretty good. Our options were more along the offensive side. That being said, I know Nate is talking to a number of guys, and it's an area where we're trying to shore up.

Q. Have you met any of those free agent guys face to face, or is that something that Ned is handling?

DON MATTINGLY: Ned for the most part is handling that. I've been involved with one guy.

Q. Does it his initial start with Z?

DON MATTINGLY: Does the initial start with a Z?

Q. What were some of the concerns he had from the clubhouse side for you?

DON MATTINGLY: You know, I think at this point, let's let this thing play out, see what happens. Ned's talking to a number of guys. Guys out there kind of from A to Z.

Q. Don, who opens the season as your closer?

DON MATTINGLY: Who opens it? Brandon. Brandon at the end of the year was dominant. Kenley actually was dominant also through the most part of the year. But Kenley still has probably thrown 60 innings in his major league career. We know Kenley is a beast back there, but we still kind of think that he's probably more he's better set up for that seven, eight innings, knowing that he's going to grow into that other part of it. There's going to be a day when he's going to be the guy.

Q. Have you talked to Ethier at all?


Q. What were those conversations like?

DON MATTINGLY: He's doing good. He's fine. I just called him the one time. I kind of read some of the things about his name being out there, and I just wanted to let him know that there's been no conversations. Just let him know that I'd never heard any of it. Nobody had said anything to me about it. I just wanted to kind of ease his mind on that.

Q. The signing with Korean pitcher, is he major?

DON MATTINGLY: I know that's still going on. It's ongoing. I think till the 10th, right?

Q. Sunday. If you want Hanley to be your everyday shortstop, how comfortable are you with the third base situation?

DON MATTINGLY: I really I think Hanley will be really important because, if Hanley plays short and he can play the way he's capable of playing it, I'm not really concerned about third. The problem gets to be, if that's not working out at short, then I've got issues with that, and I've got to start flipping guys around. I look at the way we're set up, Cruz had a great year last year. Is he going to be able to do that again? We'll see. He's been a guy that kind of roamed around the minor leagues, team to team, and had a kind of bust out year last year. But we've seen that a few times, right? You can't always count on that to continue. He's going to get that first shot over there. Also, Jerry Hairston comes back, I'm really comfortable with. Punto could play that spot. Still looking at some other options to be able to possibly be over there also. Same with Juan Uribe that can play third. Got a combination of guys. Short is steady, I'm good with third. Short doesn't get steady, then I've got issues.

Q. Have you heard the name of the Japanese young pitcher?


Q. Do you have any impression?

DON MATTINGLY: It's not mine. I know we haven't signed anybody. I know that stuff is ongoing. I don't know what's going to happen with that. Heard good things, though.

Q. I guess about a week ago Hanley jammed his shoulder at home plate. Were you notified of that, like when it happened?

DON MATTINGLY: I knew about it a day or so later.

Q. Were you like scared at the moment?

DON MATTINGLY: Not really. I knew he was going to be he's back playing. Stuff happens with guys. I played in winter ball. These guys are pretty cautious in winter ball too. If something happens, they're going to shut it down, and not going to continue on.

Q. Have you told him not to do that anymore?

DON MATTINGLY: Stop doing that. Stop getting hurt.

Q. I guess it was a head first slide.

DON MATTINGLY: You can't keep guys from playing. You start doing that, ask him to do something different, and he breaks an ankle trying to do something different.

Q. Kershaw appears okay?

DON MATTINGLY: Kersh has been great. He's doing fine.