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Dodgers' treatment of Andre Ethier is baffling

T.J. SIMERS

The All-Star right fielder's second-half slump is easily explained by a painful right knee that will require off-season surgery. So why do the Dodgers keep playing him in this lost cause of a season?

August 27, 2011|T.J. Simers
  • Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier waits for his turn to bat next to Manager Don Mattingly during an interleague game against the Angels in Anaheim.
Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier waits for his turn to bat next to Manager… (Jayne Kamin-Oncea / US Presswire )

As if the Dodgers aren't a mess already, all they have to offer their fans now is hope for better seasons ahead.

So why are they still playing Andre Ethier this season and challenging his integrity?

You don't have to be the team trainer, physician or general manager to understand there's something wrong with one of the team's very few good players.

He was an All-Star, but since the break he's hitting .224 with seven runs batted in. His last home run came on July 25.

Ask Ethier if he should still be playing on a right knee that will require off-season surgery, and he says, "If you're expecting me to do what I've done in the past, no, there's no possible way I can do that right now. You can say tough it out and give it your best shot, but it's not going to happen.

"It's only going to get worse from this point. I've dealt with it all season long, but as the season goes on my body wears down. That's just the way it is — I keep getting put in the lineup, so what am I supposed to do?"

The Dodgers played all season without a left fielder, so why not make a change in right, shut down Ethier and wheel him into the operating room?

"A million-dollar question," Ethier says before catching himself. "But I think there is a value in finishing anything you start."

But in doing so, his reputation begins to suffer with fans left to wonder what's wrong with the guy. On the last trip, he hit .074.

Worse yet, and can it get any more around here, why would the team's general manager even hint at the possibility that Ethier might be faking an injury?

"What am I supposed to be concerned about?" General Manager Ned Colletti says. "That he has those numbers [since the All-Star break], that he's hurt or contends he's hurt?"

Contends he's hurt?

Ouch.

Obviously, the Dodgers don't believe him. A week ago he had to have an ingrown nail removed from his big toe, which is on the same leg as his sore knee. He was a mess.

His sore knee does not allow him to land on his right foot properly, thereby taking away his ability to swing with authority. He's had needles inserted into his knee to add fluid, and he's had his ankle taped in an effort to keep his foot from rolling away from his knee pain.

A sore big toe made it no easier to land his foot.

So what do the Dodgers do? They insert him a game for defensive purposes a day after he had his toenail cut out. The game goes 13 innings. Then they have him in the starting lineup the following day.

Is this some kind of money-saving scheme, the Dodgers knowing he cannot perform, thereby weakening his off-season case for a new contract with the Dodgers or an arbitrator?

Ask Colletti if Ethier's poor performance works to the Dodgers' advantage, and he says, "Maybe a touch," before going on to say, "Ethier's consistency is far greater than six weeks."

But instead of signing him to a multiyear deal, the team might go through the arbitration process, keep him for a year, but then risk losing him to free agency.

"The way it's gone around here," Ethier says, "The only thing that is certain — is the uncertainty."

Ethier's knee problems began last season, the team recommending rehab. He did so, feeling better in spring training.

He hit .311 in the first half of this season, but his knee began to bark early in July. He's no longer the same hitter.

"I think our whole offense has struggled," Colletti says when asked about Ethier's knee, and what's that got to do with the pain Ethier feels?

"I think this has something to do with it," Colletti counters. "I think there are a lot of things that go into a hitter having a good year. I think the depth of a lineup will help some guys; the lack of depth will hurt some guys. [Matt] Kemp has really had a tremendous year with a lineup with not a lot of depth; Ethier has not."

Once again Colletti seems to be implying the problem is not Ethier's knee. It's a strange way to talk about one of the team's top players.

So hasn't Ethier made himself clear?

"Other than going into the training room every day and saying my knee hurts," Ethier says, "and having six-inch needles stuck into it to make it feel better, I've told them my mechanics are messed up because of my knee. They know.

"But they've told me, 'Grin and bear it.'"

Anyone who knows anything about Ethier understands he's driven by insecurity, so often doubted earlier in his career and still never quite sure folks are going to think he has the goods to be successful.

In so many ways, it's like a football team that's been told it's "us against them," only for Ethier it's usually "them against me."

It's probably what makes him so good, and so he's not going to sit down unless he's told to do so. Surrender does not come easy to this kind of competitor.

It's going to take the Dodgers, who'd better be better a year from now, to do the right thing.

But when's the last time that happened?

AS HOT as it was, I asked Vin Scully on Friday night why he was still wearing a tie.

"I'm going for neatness," he said before laughing at the realization it wasn't one of the categories on the Dodgers' broadcast survey.

It's a little surprising, though, the Dodgers didn't wait for the survey results before bringing him back.

EVER SINCE I set the magic number at 42 to eliminate James Loney as a Dodger, he's become Babe Ruth.

I was thinking of having a chat with Vernon Wells next, and that's all it took.

TODAY'S LAST word comes from Ralph Brax:

"I see that Scully is coming back next year despite turning 84. Don't get any ideas."

Funny, management here said the same thing.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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