- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Jonathan Broxton, the Los Angeles Dodgers' embattled closer, exuded his usual stoicism when he arrived in spring training on Wednesday, saying his second-half implosion last year wasn't weighing on his mind. Broxton also didn't seem concerned by the widely held perception that although new manager Don Mattingly has given him back the closer role he lost last August, the job might not be his for long if he continues to struggle.
"Last year was last year," Broxton said. "It's over. I know I'll be fine this year. I just didn't have a great second half last year."
Mattingly personally told Broxton at the end of last season he would begin 2011 as the team's closer. Asked Wednesday if Broxton would be on a tight leash in that role, Mattingly was non-committal.
"I don't want to go into hypotheticals," Mattingly said. "I look at the positives. This guy can pitch well, I think we know that. We'll go forward and cross any bridges when we get there. You have to come in with a plan and assess as you go. Right now, the plan is that I am counting on Jonathan to be our closer."
Broxton posted a 2.11 ERA during the first half, along with 19 saves, to earn his second consecutive All-Star nod, and he was riding high after a shaky but ultimately effective appearance netted him a save in the National League's first All-Star Game victory in 14 years. But his collapse started immediately thereafter.
Broxton, in a non-save situation, blew a four-run, eighth-inning lead on July 18 at St. Louis and never recovered.
Over a nine-appearance stretch that began that day and ended on Aug. 12 at Philadelphia -- the night Broxton gave up four runs in the ninth inning without retiring a batter and was removed from the closer role the next day by manager Joe Torre -- Broxton gave up 10 runs (nine earned) and nine hits and 11 walks over eight innings, and opposing batters posted a ridiculous .512 on-base percentage against him.
Broxton denied the reason his troubles seemed to snowball was that he had difficulty bouncing back mentally from a bad outing, or that he ever faced a crisis of confidence last season. But he did admit he might have gotten out of his usual approach in an effort to change his luck.
"You just have to stick with what you have," he said. "There is no sense going out and changing your mechanics just because you hit a little bump in the road. I may have gotten into some bad habits trying to figure out stuff."
Continuity in the outfield
Mattingly said if newly signed outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. can hit well enough to become an everyday presence in the lineup, Mattingly would prefer Gwynn play left field so center fielder Matt Kemp and right fielder Andre Ethier can stay in their normal positions.
For now, the Dodgers plan to go with Kemp in center, Ethier in right and some combination of Gwynn, Marcus Thames and Jay Gibbons in left. Gwynn is a career .244 hitter, which is the primary reason he has spent almost all of his career coming off the bench. But Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said in January he was intrigued by the possibility of having Gwynn's speed and defense in center field, a situation that likely would result in moving Kemp to right and Ethier to left.
"I don't really want to move guys," said Mattingly, citing the fact Kemp won a Gold Glove in center in 2009. "I would rather have guys stay in their positions for the most part."
As Mattingly pulled up a chair on a second-floor patio of the team's spring-training complex for his first media session on Wednesday morning, a reporter warned him not to sit there because there was a bird dropping on the back of the chair. Mattingly responded by casually pushing the dropping off the chair with his bare hand.
"I cleaned a river the other day," he said, a reference to the first day of the recent Dodgers winter caravan, during which Mattingly and several team members took part in a cleanup project on a stretch of the Los Angeles River.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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