Blue Jays bench coach Mattingly embraces challenge of new offensive co-ordinator role

DUNEDIN, Fla. — The Toronto Blue Jays made off-season adjustments to their coaching staff in the wake of a middling offensive season last year.

Enter bench coach Don Mattingly — a former American League batting champion and MVP — who has been given the additional title of offensive co-ordinator for his second season with the club.

"I love hitting, (it) starts there," Mattingly said Friday of his new role. "I feel like I have a passion for that."

Changes were made just a few weeks after Toronto's elimination in the wild-card series following an 89-win regular season. The Blue Jays managed only one run over a two-game sweep by the Minnesota Twins.

Among the changes, DeMarlo Hale returned to the team as associate manager under skipper John Schneider. Hitting coach Guillermo Martinez was brought back after the Blue Jays finished eighth in the majors in team average (. 256) and 14th in runs scored (746).

Matt Hague and Hunter Mense will serve as assistant hitting coaches and John Lannan was named major-league mental performance coach. Hitting strategist Dave Hudgens was reassigned to minor-league offensive game planning.

"(It's) everyone understanding what they're good at," Schneider said of this year's approach. "As Donnie likes to say, 'Taking small bites out of things they can get better at.'

"But really focusing on what makes them great."

A career .307 hitter with 2,153 hits over a 14-year playing career with the New York Yankees, Mattingly later managed the Los Angeles Dodgers and Miami Marlins.

"My approach and thought process is really pretty simple," he said. "What are we doing to get a good swing off? Are we putting ourselves in position? What are you hunting? What's your game plan and what are we doing with this (pitcher)?

"If we can do that consistently, then we trust the ability of our guys that their numbers are going to be there."

Toronto's team defence improved last season and the pitching staff was strong. But clutch hitting was inconsistent and several regulars — including Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Daulton Varsho and Alejandro Kirk to name a few — had their numbers slip from the previous season.

"It doesn't matter what happened last year, honestly," Mattingly said. "When I get to do this role, it's about uniting it and making sure it's consistent. And we're having conversations with our players. They have a big voice.

"They have to let you know what they're trying to do so you can actually help them, and make sure that we're helping them plan for what they want to do that night."

General manager Ross Atkins said Martinez handled the fundamental work last season while Hudgens took on strategy. With Mattingly now in charge of a new structure, one of the goals is to have clear messaging.

"I do think we're capable of having competitive at-bats up and down the lineup where we're tough outs," Mattingly said. "Making guys work and fight to get us out. Just let their ability come out."

Bo Bichette said Mattingly "had a little fire" when he addressed the players earlier this week, something the shortstop said was nice to see.

"He's just setting that expectation for us as a team to be tough guys to pitch to," he said.

Schneider announced Friday that left-hander Ricky Tiedemann had been scratched from his starting assignment in Saturday's pre-season opener against Philadelphia due to left hamstring discomfort.

The precautionary move came after Tiedemann felt something while doing conditioning work at the player development complex, Schneider said. An update is expected Saturday once imaging results are complete.

Tiedemann, the Blue Jays' top-ranked prospect, has an outside shot at landing the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation. Chad Dallas was tabbed to start against the Phillies instead.

The pre-season continues through March 25. Toronto's regular-season opener is set for March 28 at Tampa Bay.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2024.

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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press