Close quarters for Dodgers' hopefuls
HOUSTON -- In a development that could add an intriguing dynamic to what otherwise is shaping up as a dreary final few weeks of the season, the three leading candidates to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2011 will spend the rest of 2010 sharing a clubhouse.
Tim Wallach, the manager of the Dodgers' Triple-A Albuquerque affiliate, joined the club in time for Friday night's game with the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park and will be an extra member of the coaching staff the rest of the way. He joins Torre, who still could decide to return for another season, and hitting coach Don Mattingly, who has long been considered the heir apparent to Torre -- even as Wallach has emerged in recent months as a possible candidate and who certainly hasn't been hurt by being named by Baseball America as the Pacific Coast League's best managerial prospect.
"He is just observing," Torre said. "Again, it's a perk for those [minor league coaches]. They spend the season in the minor leagues trying to help players and groom players. The first thing Eli [Wallach] said was 'I'm sorry I didn't help more.' Well, we didn't help ourselves here, either."
Wallach said he is flattered by, but uncomfortable with, the speculation surrounding his future. While he makes no secret of his ambition to manage in the majors, he is extremely cautious in addressing questions about his possible candidacy to succeed Torre.
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"I'm trying to ignore it," Wallach said. "It's all nice and everything, but I really don't know what to say about it because it's other people talking. It's nice to be named and all that, but I have too much respect for these guys and this staff to be too concerned with it right now. It's tough to really talk about it."
To be clear, there is nothing to suggest that if Torre does retire in three weeks, there won't be other candidates to take over besides Mattingly and Wallach. But Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti has been open and public about his desire to establish a high level of continuity in the organization, and Colletti also has been clear that along those lines, he would like the future manager to be a current Dodgers employee.
To that end, Mattingly and Wallach immediately jump to the head of the pack.
"I think down the road, at this point, [Wallach] certainly is going to be a big league manager," Torre said. "I can tell you that just from the time I have spent with him in spring training, and we have talked several times during the season."
Wallach managed in the advanced Class A California League for the Dodgers in 1998 and for the then-Anaheim Angels in 1999, then served as the Dodgers' major league hitting coach in 2004-05. He returned to the organization in 2009 and has managed at Albuquerque each of the past two seasons.
Wallach said managing at Triple-A, where many players already have big league service time, is a vastly different challenge from managing in A-ball.
"You get guys on the way up and guys on the way down," Wallach said. "There is still some development going on. To me, I felt like I needed to make sure these guys were prepared to come here and help them win here. That was the most important thing to me."
Wallach said he believes he is ready to manage in the majors, but that his Triple-A experience has been much more valuable in that area than managing in Class A was for him.
"I would think so," he said. "Dealing with those personalities is much different. Personality-wise, the guys at those lower levels are just trying to get here one day. But at the Triple-A level, they have been so close, or maybe they have already been here."
Mitchell gets extended look
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Rookie Russell Mitchell, a September call-up, was in the lineup for the third day in a row and the second time in three days at first base. Torre said this four-game series with the Astros, another non-contending club, provides the perfect opportunity to get an extended look at some of his younger players, but that the regulars will play most of the time whenever the Dodgers play contending clubs to maintain the integrity of those playoff races.
After Sunday, the Dodgers will play 12 of their final 18 games against clubs that currently have a shot at the playoffs.
"When you go to San Francisco [for a three-game series starting Monday], you certainly know you have to go out there and use more experienced guys," Torre said. "Not that you're not going to play Mitchell a game or two, but you're not going to do any wholesale stuff."
Ausmus starts in old home
Torre said veteran catcher Brad Ausmus, who won all three of his Gold Gloves during his 10 seasons with the Astros and who is retiring after the season, will start on Sunday, the final game he will play at Minute Maid Park.
"I told him I would catch him in one of the games and gave him his choice of which one," Torre said. "He said, 'Anything you want to do.' So we'll do it Sunday."
Ausmus also was a key member of the only World Series team in the Astros' 49-year history in 2005, when they lost to the Chicago White Sox.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.