Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier scores past Milwaukee catcher George… (Mark Duncan / Associated…)
Reporting from Phoenix — With Matt Kemp batting in front of him and presumably reaching base 35% to 40% of the time, Andre Ethier figures to see a significant number of hittable pitches this season.
Ethier, in turn, thinks Kemp could benefit from his presence in the cleanup spot .
"I'm hoping he's not going to be walked too much because if I'm doing my part, they'll go after him," Ethier said. "I won't say they'll challenge him fully, but it's a thing where if the 3-4 guys are going, it's tough to choose your battles."
Based on how Ethier has hit this spring, that could very well be the case.
Appearing to be recovered from a knee injury that deprived him of his power last season, Ethier hit his second home run of the exhibition season Tuesday in the Dodgers' 7-6 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.
Ethier is batting .440 this spring and Kemp .303, offering the promise of a lethal middle-of-the-lineup tandem that was severely compromised by Ethier's health last season. Early last season, the Dodgers received little offensive production outside of Ethier and Kemp. When Ethier's form dipped, Kemp essentially became a one-man team.
Manager Don Mattingly has conceded the Dodgers are unlikely to be a high-scoring team again. But if Ethier and Kemp are both hitting well, that would provide a measure of stability that was absent last year.
"I think that's our main goal, me and Matt, if we can just play off each other and help each other get better and, beyond that, help the guys in front of him and behind me," Ethier said.
Of Ethier's 11 hits, 10 have been for extra bases — six doubles, two triples and two home runs.
"We need that," Kemp said. " 'Dre can hit, man. He's locked in now. It's good to see him swinging the bat good. It's definitely going to make it hard on the pitchers."
While acknowledging Ethier is the player who could most transform the lineup, Mattingly has been careful not to overburden him with pressure.
"Right now, he looks like himself, he looks like himself from a couple of years ago," Mattingly said. "I feel like he's one of the best hitters in the league when he's going right. But I don't want to put too much on him from the standpoint of having to do all this and be all this. He just needs to be himself."
So, if Mattingly were an opposing manager, how he would he approach Kemp and Ethier?
"It's a right-left thing with those two, really," Mattingly said. "You'd much rather attack Matty with a righty and you'd much rather attack 'Dre with a lefty."
Ethier batted fifth Monday as part of a lineup Mattingly is considering using against left-handed pitchers. Ethier was hitless in two at-bats against Brewers starter Chris Narveson but was pleased with how he made an adjustment that led to his fifth-inning hit off right-hander Marco Estrada.
"I had two tough at-bats today against that lefty," Ethier said. "I think it was a little mechanical thing. I figured out after that second at-bat that I was overstriding a little bit and shortened up a lot. I think that's the key more than anything. If I go out there and have sound mechanics and feel comfortable in the box, righty, lefty, it doesn't matter."