Dodgers Inside Report - January 30

Although Don Mattingly's tenure as Dodgers hitting coach didn't even last until the start of spring training -- the team recently announced that he had backed out of the job because of a family matter -- the news wasn't necessarily a setback, either for the highly respected Mattingly or for the organization.

First of all, Mattingly will remain with the club as a special assignment instructor, allowing him to be based out of his home in Evansville, Ind. He will attend the earliest part of spring training, then join the team as a pregame instructor when it plays in some Midwestern cities.

   Moreover, there is no reason why Mattingly can't rejoin the club as a coach -- possibly hitting coach, possibly bench coach, possibly something else -- next year.

As for the Dodgers, they replaced Mattingly by promoting Mike Easler from his role as hitting coach at Class AAA Las Vegas. A career .293 hitter in 14 major league seasons, Easler also has spent six seasons as a major league hitting coach, most recently with St. Louis from 1999-2001.

But the most appealing factor from the Dodgers' standpoint was the fact that Easler spent 2006 as the hitting coach at their Class AA Jacksonville affiliate, then moved up to Las Vegas last year. That means he has spent much of the past two seasons -- and almost every day, in some cases -- with several of the Dodgers' most promising prospects, many of whom will be in the majors this season.

Among those who have benefited from Easler's tutelage are infielders Tony Abreu, Chin-lung Hu, Andy LaRoche and James Loney and outfielder Matt Kemp. At least four of those five are expected to be on the Dodgers' Opening Day roster.

"These kids can play, and I know them inside and out," Easler said. "I love these kids. They're like my sons, and I am happy that they're moving up. This is just the continuation of something we started two years ago."

Notes and Quotes
--RHP Scott Proctor agreed to terms on a one-year, $1,115,000 contract, avoiding arbitration in what would have been his first winter of eligibility. He is expected to fill a sixth- and seventh-inning role similar to last year.

--LHP Scott Elbert, one of the Dodgers' top pitching prospects, is said to be doing well on his rehabilitation from season-ending shoulder surgery last April despite the fact he has had a handful of minor setbacks. Although he has an outside chance of being ready by the start of spring training, club officials won't panic even if he isn't ready by Opening Day.

--LHP Joe Beimel is the Dodgers' last pending arbitration case for the second year in a row. Last winter, he took the club to a hearing and lost, leaving him with a $912,500 salary for 2007 after he had asked for $1.25 million. This year, Beimel is asking for $2.15 million, while the club filed at $1.7 million. Beimel will be eligible for free agency next winter.

--RHP Bryan Morris, the second of the club's two first-round picks in 2006, also is recovering well from Tommy John surgery in the fall of 2006 that caused him to miss all of 2007. But Morris reportedly has been so gung-ho in his rehab program that club officials have had to rein him in several times for fear of a setback.

--Manager Dave Collins of the Dodgers' Class A Inland Empire affiliate resigned due to a family issue. John Valentin, who had recently been hired as the team's hitting coach, was promoted to replace Collins.

By The Numb3rs: 2.33 -- Difference between Brad Penny's first-half (2.64) and second-half (4.97) ERAs over the past two seasons combined. The veteran right-hander was an All-Star in each of those seasons. While his second-half decline wasn't nearly as dramatic in 2007 as it was in 2006, his ERA still rose from 2.39 to 3.84.

Note to Quote: "I'm a professional, and I have been in this game for 38 years. I understand how this game works. It's just a matter of timing. I'm here right now, and I'll just make the best out of it for this year." -- Dodgers hitting coach Mike Easler, in response to a question of whether he expects his new assignment to last longer than one season given the possibility that Don Mattingly might return to the role in 2009.

*MA*S*H* 4077 Report
INF Tony Abreu (sports hernia surgery in October 2007) will recover for six to eight weeks before re-engaging in baseball activities.

SS Rafael Furcal (slightly bulging disk in back) missed the final two weeks of the 2007 season but didn't need surgery for that or his sprained left ankle. He will be ready for the start of spring training. Played well but briefly during the Dominican Winter League.

RHP Jason Schmidt (shoulder surgery in June 2007) remains on target for a spring return.

OF Jason Repko (left hamstring surgery in March 2007) missed all of the 2007 season. He was sidelined for a week in October in the Arizona Fall League due to a right ankle injury.

LHP Hong-Chih Kuo (left elbow surgery in July 2007) had begun a rehab program before the end of the 2007 season.