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Mattingly switches Dodger coaching jobs

Due to family priorities, he goes from hitting coach to special assignment position.

New York Yankees bench coach Don Mattingly and manager Joe Torre watch the Yankees game against the Kansas City Royals last August. Torre is now the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Mattingly is the organization’s major league special assignment coach.

MCT photo

LOS ANGELES — Don Mattingly won’t be alongside Joe Torre in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ dugout for every game this year.

Mattingly will be moved from Dodgers hitting coach to major league special assignment coach for the 2008 season due to family reasons, the team said Tuesday. Mike Easler will replace Mattingly as hitting coach.

“Donnie is prioritizing his family first,” his agent, Ray Schulte, wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “The Dodgers have been very supportive, creating a position so Don can still make a contribution to the team throughout the year!”

After losing out to Joe Girardi for the New York Yankees’ managerial job, Mattingly agreed to follow Torre to Los Angeles.

Mattingly will now assist with the Dodgers’ major league coaching staff during spring training and throughout the season. He still wants to become a major league manager one day.

“I’m very grateful that the Dodgers have allowed me to take care of these family matters and I hope that everyone can respect our privacy during this time,” Mattingly said in a statement issued by the team. “I truly appreciate the support of all Dodger fans since joining the organization and I look forward to helping the team win in 2008 and beyond.”

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said he was surprised when Mattingly contacted him.

“He’s still going to be a piece of the organization. We’re happy about that,” Colletti said. “Some of this we’re going to play by ear regarding his schedule. A lot of this will get ferreted out as the year goes on.

“It’s one of those situations that needs to be taken care of and we support him completely. You’re always disappointed when anybody has to go through any type of issues. We’ll make the best of it, we’ll be supportive of him.”

Colletti said the change in jobs meant a change in Mattingly’s contract, but wouldn’t elaborate. Mattingly agreed to a multiyear deal when he joined the Dodgers, and it seemed a good possibility he would become the Dodgers’ manager when the 67-year-old Torre’s three-year contract runs out.

“It’s too early to tell,” Colletti said regarding the future. “My opinion of him hasn’t changed. I still think he has a great amount of intellect and ability that he can bring to the organization. We’ll see what transpires. I could have said that back in November.”

Easler, 57, was the St. Louis Cardinals’ hitting coach from 1999-2001, and served in the same capacity for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1992 and the Boston Red Sox from 1993-94. He spent the last two seasons as a hitting coach in the Dodgers’ minor league system.

Among players Easler worked with during the past two years at Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A Las Vegas were Matt Kemp, James Loney, Andy LaRoche, Delwyn Young and Chin-lung Hu.

Colletti said he and Torre thought about Easler right away after hearing from Mattingly.

“He’s been a hitting coach before in the big leagues, he’s basically walked the walk with a number of our young kids,” Colletti said. “It’s almost February, the transition we thought would be easier with Mike, easier with our players. We thought he was the right person and deserved the opportunity to do it.”

Easler called the move “a situation of what started two years ago.”

“This is a blessing to me, a blessing to my family,” he said. “These kids can play. I love these kids, these kids are like my sons. Timing is a key thing in this game. I’ve been in the game for 38 years. It so happens the timing is right now and I’m going to make the best of this year.”

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