MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Mattingly's style proving adaptable in Miami

Mattingly's style proving adaptable in Miami

DENVER -- Don Mattingly spent the first 37 years of his professional baseball career with the game's blue bloods -- the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now, in his first year as manager of the Miami Marlins, he is learning how the rest of the baseball world lives. And he relishes the opportunity.

That's not knocking the Dodgers, a team Mattingly managed to National League West titles each of the past three years before stepping down at the end of last season. It's just how much fun he is having taking over the job with the Marlins.

This is a franchise that had suffered seven consecutive losing seasons, including losing 91 games last year and 100 in 2013.

This year? The Marlins are right there behind the Dodgers in the NL Wild Card battle. In rallying in the ninth for a 5-3 victory over the Rockies at Coors Field on Friday night -- their second win in 50 games in which they had trailed going into the ninth -- Miami remained tied with St. Louis for the second NL Wild Card spot.

And the Marlins matter again as a team, not just because Ichiro Suzuki is two hits shy of becoming the 30th player in Major League history to collect 3,000 hits. That might be the focus of the attention of the media and fans in Suzuki's native Japan as well as around the Major Leagues, but it is not with Miami.

Ichiro has not started a game in the past week, and his strikeout in a pinch-hit at-bat on Friday night left him hitless in his past 11 at-bats, and with only two hits in 21 at-bats dating back to his final at-bat in a July 21 start.

"What I love is Ichiro knows he is the fourth outfielder," said Mattingly. "I am putting lineups out to win games, not so he can get to 3,000. He's going to get to 3,000. He's not trying to force it. He would have liked to have had it happen on the last homestand, but he was 2-for-17."

The Marlins return home on Monday for a six-game homestand that includes three games against the Giants and three vs. the White Sox. But first they have games against the Rockies on Saturday and Sunday, and Ichiro could well get a start in one of those.

Would Miami like him to get that coveted 3,000th hit at home? Of course. But more than that, the club wants to claim a spot in the postseason.

And that starts at the top with owner Jeffrey Loria.

"Jeffrey is a little bit like Mr. Steinbrenner, in a good way," Mattingly said of the late George Steinbrenner, the Yankees owner when Mattingly was a player and a coach. "Mr. Steinbrenner wanted to win and Jeffrey wants to win. Everything Jeffrey does is about winning. He wants to win somehow, some way."

Mattingly wants to win, too. It is part of his DNA, and trying to win with a younger team has been a bonus.

"It's refreshing from the standpoint of a team that wanted us to come in and help these guys turn the corner," said Mattingly. "We have a bunch of good young players who are capable. We have a good team, good lineup of young players. It was a matter of them trusting our staff to help these guys get to the next level. That's been refreshing."

That's not knocking the Dodgers or the Dodgers' players.

"This is just a different time of their careers," Mattingly said. "In L.A., the young guys are coming now, but it was a more experienced group. It is different when you have older guys who have been through a lot. It is a different dynamic than when Giancarlo Stanton is one of your older guys at 26."

That, however, doesn't change what Mattingly wants to accomplish. He isn't buying the idea that the Marlins or their fans would be happy with just being competitive.

"I think you should expect to win all the time -- young, old, large payroll, small payroll," Mattingly said. "If you are capable of winning you want to win."

From the dugout on the other side of the field, Mattingly felt there was a winning nucleus on Miami's roster.

"I had seen players from the other side of the field," he said. "I saw what happened last year and knew there needed to be a change, but this team was really good, talented. You played against them, you knew this team had good young players.

"I look at it as a challenge. I was turning 55 this year. I had been with the Yankees and Dodgers. This went back to my roots -- teaching, developing, wanting the team to grow. That was my biggest interest in managing to begin with."

And when Mattingly held private meetings with players during the offseason, he realized the Marlins' players were focused on playing in October, even if they had finished 19 games behind the NL East champion Mets a year ago, and a combined 148 games out of first in the past six seasons.

"When I talked to guys individually in the winter, the refreshing part to me is almost to a man their viewpoint was, 'We have a good team,'" Mattingly said. "They knew they had a chance to be a good team. They were looking forward to the challenge.

"I think they are going to enjoy this pennant race. We are going to see who deals with it and who doesn't, and guys who maybe don't deal with it perfectly will learn from it the next time around. I think these guys will have a blast playing where every game you feel you have to win, where you feel that every loss costs you."

And it is something Mattingly knows he will enjoy as much as any of the players.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.