When Dodgers manager Don Mattingly abruptly criticized the lack of fight and competitiveness on his team's "All-Star" roster Wednesday morning, he wasn't aiming that critique at the front office, despite widespread assumptions to the contrary, sources said.
In fact, general manager Ned Colletti agreed on Mattingly's sentiments, sources told ESPN. And multiple sources say Mattingly is in no imminent danger of being fired.
Mattingly's harsh words for his players, along with the benching of struggling right fielder Andre Ethier, came just hours after a late-night meeting Tuesday with his coaching staff and Colletti. The meeting, following a 5-2 loss in Milwaukee that was their 12th in 17 games, was held in the clubhouse and lasted until after 1 a.m., even though the team had a noon game the next day.
That meeting was not an outgrowth of a divide between Mattingly and his front office, sources said. And what came out of it was described as being something that everyone involved viewed as very positive.
"I think the air was cleared and a new direction was given," according to one source.
Mattingly's decisions to criticize his team and to bench Ethier were an outgrowth of the meeting, but they were also his call, not the GM's, multiple sources said. The manager emerged from the session determined to be more assertive and outspoken -- a stance Colletti was said to encourage.
Before Wednesday's game, Mattingly said he wants "a team with talent that will fight, and compete like a club that doesn't have talent."
"I felt like we got more out of our ability [last year]," Mattingly said, according to MLB.com. "I don't know if that team was tougher. I don't know why, and it was only for a short period of time.
"Part of it is the mixture of competitiveness. It's not just putting an All-Star team out there and the All-Star team wins. You try to find that balance of a team that's got a little grit and fight, and has enough talent to get there also. It's not all grit and no talent that gets there, and it's not all talent and no grit. It's a mixture of both."
People around the Dodgers say Colletti has been concerned about his team's lack of competitive fire in some cases. They point out that, as far back as spring training, the GM said despite all the big-name and big-buck talent on the Dodgers' roster, "for us to be successful, we're going to have to prepare better than every other team, execute better than every other team and compete harder than every other team."
Mattingly did not specifically name Ethier in his comments, but did little to dissuade reporters from drawing that conclusion. Asked why Ethier was out of Wednesday's lineup, the manager said he was "trying to put the club out there that I feel is going to fight." Mattingly also did not inform Ethier he was being benched, or explain the reasons for it, before speaking to the media.
When Ethier learned, after Wednesday's game, of Mattingly's comments, and the insinuation that those words were directed at him, he told reporters: "I take offense to that. I work hard. Whether I'm going good or going bad, I work just as hard, both sides."
Ethier told reporters he was upset that Mattingly had criticized him to the media without speaking with him, and said he would "take a look at" Mattingly's comments "and address it."
Clubs say the Dodgers are letting it be known Ethier would be available in a trade, but the approximately $80 million he has left on his contract through the 2017 season would make one difficult, unless Los Angeles is willing to eat a significant chunk of that money.
The Dodgers, who have fallen seven games below .500 (19-26) and six games out of first place in the NL West, were off Thursday. On Friday, they begin a five-game homestand that includes three games against the Cardinals and two against the Angels.