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DODGERS FYI

Andre Ethier is out of lineup again, partly because of a slump

The outfielder, who also is dealing with injuries, appears as a pinch-hitter Wednesday against the Astros.

May 25, 2011|By Ben Bolch
  • Dodger outfielder Andre Ethier has been in a slump since his 30-game hitting streak came to an end earlier this month.
Dodger outfielder Andre Ethier has been in a slump since his 30-game hitting… (Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press )

Reporting from Houston — Andre Ethier was out of the Dodgers' lineup for a third consecutive game, and there was more to the explanation than a collision with a chain-link fence.

Manager Don Mattingly said he held Ethier out against the Houston Astros on Wednesday in part because his right fielder was slumping at the plate.

And in a further sign that he might have lost some confidence in one of his team's best hitters, Mattingly used Ethier as a pinch-hitter … only to remove Ethier from the game so that Jay Gibbons would be assured of another at-bat.

The move led to an awkward sequence in the middle of the seventh inning. After being intentionally walked as a pinch-hitter during a rally that fizzled, Ethier grabbed his glove in the dugout and jogged to right field. He then jogged back as Gibbons took his spot.

"It was just confusion," Mattingly said. "With Gibby coming up fifth [in the eighth inning], we wanted to have him there and give us a shot right there."

Said Ethier: "[Mattingly] told me to go out and then he brought me back in. … I guess they changed their mind."

The Astros intentionally walked Gibbons in the eighth to pitch to Dioner Navarro, who hit a fly ball to end the inning.

Since his 30-game hitting streak ended May 7, Ethier is hitting .179 with only one extra-base hit in 56 at-bats.

"I'm not going to hit in 162 games," said Ethier, who is batting .311 overall. "I didn't set out to hit in 30 straight games. I was trying to get hits and I got a lot of damn hits in 30 games, so the law of averages has to equal out."

Gibbons, who started in right field, was hitting .316 on the current trip before going 0 for 3 with a walk Wednesday.

"You want to play the guys that are going good," Mattingly said before the game. "Gibby right now, he's been hitting the ball hard. He's been dangerous for the most part, so I'm just going to ride him a little bit."

Mattingly said he also wanted Ethier, who injured his left elbow, lower back and left big toe when he crashed into the outfield fence at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field on Sunday, to be at full strength when he returns.

"I can't get guys that are being martyrs for me and going 70%," Mattingly said. "When we get him back out there, I need him to go 100%. That's really what I'm trying to do."

With the exception of three pinch-hit at-bats, Ethier will have had four consecutive days off by the time the Dodgers open a three-game series against Florida on Friday at Dodger Stadium.

Catch, if you can

Mattingly also held Rod Barajas out for a third consecutive game, in part to give the injured catcher the equivalent of a four-day break because the Dodgers don't play Thursday.

Barajas said there was a little bit of soreness in his sprained right wrist but expected to play Friday against the Marlins. Navarro started Wednesday.

"I felt like today was a day I could go out there and play also," Barajas said, "but with the day off coming up, it kind of makes sense to take today and then have [Thursday] off just to get the most time you possibly can to let it heal and then I'm going to go right back at it and beat it up again. So the more we can give it to heal, the better."

Confidence game

Assessing Hong-Chih Kuo's progress in his attempt to return from an anxiety disorder isn't as simple as monitoring his ability to throw strikes.

"It's not really about how he looks; it's more about how he feels, what he's thinking and how he's dealing with everything," Mattingly said of the reliever, who has begun working out at the Dodgers' spring-training complex in Arizona.

Ultimately, Kuo may have to tell the Dodgers when he's ready to make the next step in his comeback from the loss of command that has sidelined him since May 10.

"He's the one who knows how he feels when he gets the ball in his hands," Mattingly said. "He's going to have to be the one who says, 'I'm ready to go.'"

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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