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Stretching the Field: Patience paying off for Mattingly in L.A.

Imagine playing for a cantankerous manager like Springfield's Montgomery Burns.

Don Mattingly never got a chance in a cameo appearance on "The Simpsons" because his sideburns were too long, according to the curmudgeon of a skipper.

Burns' company softball team didn't need Mattingly because it was loaded with the likes of Jose Canseco, Darryl Strawberry and Ken Griffey Jr. Strawberry, however, was the only star who played because the other ringers suffered unrelated misfortunes and Mattingly was booted off the team.

Fast forward to reality and the former New York Yankees hero known as "Donnie Baseball" is managing his own cast of characters with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Facial hair is allowed, but nonsense and laziness will not be tolerated.

Mattingly is as cool as they come in regards to managing style. Competence, knowledge, respect for the game and players are what the Dodgers relish in their manager.

Under the guidance of the great Joe Torre and others, Mattingly was a sponge when it came to understanding how to succeed in the big leagues as the head honcho. He already achieved greatness in the Bronx as a hard-nosed player and gives deserving credit to those who taught him growing up.

"I never forget how hard this game is to play," Mattingly said last week. "For me, a lot of my job is teaching. I have an understanding of how the game works, the ebbs and flows of a season. You struggle at times, you go good at times.

"I take a lot from how coaches treated me. I had coaches, when you're going bad, they don't talk to you, and when you're good, there they are again. I will never be like that, and the players know that. A lot of them saw that when I was hitting coach. I'm there all the time -- as long as you work. I know they'll struggle, and as long as they work hard, I'll have patience."

Patience is beginning to pay off this season for a Dodgers team that has been absent from the playoffs since getting dropped in back-to-back NLCS appearances in 2008 and 2009. Mattingly's club is 16-7 and has the most wins in the National League. The Dodgers haven't blinked at the sideshow that is the sale of the team, and center fielder Matt Kemp is an early MVP candidate.

When it comes to patience at the plate, Mattingly is the man to ask. Kemp has been all ears to the tune of a .417 average, 12 home runs and 25 RBIs. After Kemp was serenaded by the crowd to "MVP" chants following a walk-off home run to beat Washington, Mattingly couldn't hold back his feelings on the slugger.

"I hate to say he could be scary. He is scary. He's fun to watch," Mattingly said.

The Dodgers have been an enjoyable club to watch in all facets of the game, not just what Kemp does with his bat. Andre Ethier seems to be back in his usual productive form, James Loney and Dee Gordon have been seeing the ball rather well at the plate and even the pitching staff is thriving. Chris Capuano, reigning NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, veteran Ted Lilly and usually rocky starter Chad Billingsley all have records better than .500. In fact, Capuano, Kershaw and Lilly are all undefeated early on.

Mattingly can only hope the month of May will be just as good as April, with his club opening the new month on the road to Colorado and Chicago (Cubs). Can Kemp keep up his torrid pace? Who knows, but he is only one of four players in MLB history to finish April with at least a .400 batting average, 10 or more home runs and more than 20 RBIs. The others were Barry Bonds (2004), Larry Walker (1997) and Tony Perez (1970). Now that's some nice company.

The Dodgers dropped the opener of their road swing at the Rockies on Monday, but they already set the wheels of dominance in motion the previous weeks. Aaron Harang was banged around in the start and Kemp homered for the third time in five games. The good thing about baseball is that a 162-game schedule gives players plenty of time to adjust and managers patience to flourish.