Ever since Yasiel Puig has been called back up, the Dodgers’ outfield is starting to make more sense. Left field is covered by Howie Kendrick, center field is manned by Joc Pederson and Kike Hernandez when the Dodgers don’t want Pederson to hit off a lefty, and in right field the team has Josh Reddick and Puig, who look like they are splitting time as of right now. But there will be an old familiar face that will eventually be called up before playoff time, and that is Andre Ethier. Yes, Ethier, the guy who has been on the Dodgers for ten years now. Ten years… that must be some kind of a record.
Way back in spring training, Ethier fouled a ball of his shin against the Arizona Diamondbacks and suffered a fractured right tibia, and he was out indefinitely. Ethier was having a great spring training up until that point, as he was hitting .435 in 10 games. Even though it was only spring training, Ethier was looking to continue his momentum after an outstanding 2015 season, where he had a solid .294 (his highest batting average since 2008) with 14 home runs and 53 RBIs.
Ethier’s departure led the way for Trayce Thompson to have a chance to shine, and when Trayce got injured, the game of musical chairs (also known as the Dodgers outfield) started to really pick up and it still is. Where does Ethier fit in when he comes back for the home stretch? Not too long ago the Dodgers outfield “problem” was when the Dodgers had to sit either Puig, Ethier, Matt Kemp, or Carl Crawford. That situation is a cake-walk compared to what’s going on now.
There is no formula on how Dave Roberts can figure this mess out, but I’m going to take a crack at it. Ethier has shown he can play all outfield positions in his 10-year career as a Dodger, and if I were Dave Roberts, I would utilize that as much as possible. To me, it seems that left field is where Ethier should start playing, splitting time with Kendrick. Yes, Howie is hot hitting the ball, so maybe he moves to second base to split time with Utley.
Ethier struggles against left handed pitching just like every left handed Dodger, so Kendrick can play against lefties and Ethier could play against righties. Or, if Reddick continues to struggle and Puig gets cold hitting, Ethier could go to right field. Right field is Ethier’s most natural position. If Joc Pederson gets cold in the playoffs like he did last year, Ethier could step in and play in center. If Ethier comes back and plays well, he’s a hard guy to not include in your lineup given his consistency.
On the flip side, if Ethier comes out of the gates rusty, I would say he should be the first guy off the bench as a pinch hitter. I’d rather have him come up to bat than a player like Rob Segedin or Andrew Toles because of his experience in October.
Recently when Roberts was asked about Ethier’s return, he said, “I’m going to trust his major-league service and how he knows his swing. When he’s ready then he will let me know and we will act accordingly.” This doesn’t say a lot except for that Roberts seeks to be on the same page as Ethier, an issue Don Mattingly had last year in Game 5 of the NLDS. With the success that Dave Roberts has had with the lineup and bullpen this year, I think it is safe to say he will successfully figure out a way to fit the veteran outfielder into the game!