Veteran outfielder's role with Dodgers in flux as bench nears full strength
By Steve Bourbon
LOS ANGELES -- Andre Ethier is in a familiar position, although it's not the most comfortable one.
Ethier has benefited from playing every day in recent weeks as the Dodgers have been ravaged by injuries, especially in the outfield. But as Los Angeles gets back to full strength, Ethier's role with the club becomes more uncertain.
In his 10th season in L.A., Ethier has been a victim of the numbers game. With Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford and rookie Joc Pederson in the outfield, Ethier wasn't in the Dodgers' Opening Day lineup for the first time since 2006. Spring Training was a battle for playing time, adding in Scott Van Slyke, utility men Alex Guerrero and Kiké Hernandez in the mix to compete for outfield spots in the lineup.
"It's every man for himself," Ethier recalled. "It's not a competition against other teams, it's a competition of the guys in here, and may the best man win."
But nearly immediately, the injury bug bit the Dodgers hard. Crawford sustained an oblique injury and Puig was put on the shelf with a strained hamstring, in addition to losing a pair of starting pitchers for the season, among other pieces in the bullpen.
In the interim, Ethier has been playing every day in right field and has made the most of it. He's already doubled his home run output from 2014. Ethier is hitting .287, which would be his highest average since 2011. His .369 on-base percentage would be his highest since '08.
"You have to adjust a little bit and just be the best for the team that day," Ethier said. "Just be ready when your number is called."
Now the Dodgers and their embarrassment of riches in the outfield must find playing time as they get key pieces back in the lineup.
Puig is 9-for-15 since coming off the disabled list on Saturday, and his return slides Ethier back to left field.
Young guns Pederson and Guerrero are first and third in home runs among rookies. Van Slyke is due back from the DL this weekend and will split time with Ethier in left field.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said that the lineup will be dictated by matchup, and the left-handed Ethier will get the lion's share of at-bats.
But with his name no longer a foregone conclusion in the lineup every day, Ethier knows things will be back to the way they were in Spring Training: May the best man win.
"It's nothing that you like to see or nothing you want to be a part of, but it's one where they make decisions and you have to be ready for your day," Ethier said. "That's all you can do here. It's a thing where there's a lot of guys vying for spots in that lineup and you can't play every day."
Steve Bourbon is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.