The last thing any team needs is internal discord as they head into the postseason, but Manager Don Mattingly and the Los Angeles Dodgers are getting a dose of that with the Andre Ethier situation. Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times recently tweeted that Ethier is not happy with his status as the fifth outfielder on the team – which pretty much makes Ethier not an outfielder.
Mattingly has commented on this in snippets over the past couple of weeks. He mentioned he was aware of Ethier’s frustration and said they’ve had talks about it. I’ll bet they had talks.
Ethier is currently fifth on the list because not only is he behind regular starters Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford, but his status has dropped beneath Scott Van Slyke, who regularly spot starts in place of the three regulars. When new kid, Joc Pederson, got called up from the minors, Ethier found himself scooted further down the bench behind him. Mattingly quickly showed a preference for using Pederson as a pinch-hitter while Ethier wore a deeper rut into the pine.
Perhaps the greatest blow to Ethier’s baseball ego occurred on September 13 when the Dodgers pounded the Giants in a laugher at AT&T Park. That (wonderful) night the Dodgers scored 17 runs, pretty much every September call-up played for both teams, and Ethier never set a foot out of the dugout. It gave me flashbacks to the cold treatment then-Los Angeles Raiders running back Marcus Allen received at the hands of owner Al Davis.
While Andre Ethier has every right to be displeased with his predicament, he doesn’t seem to have a big pot to cry in. From the start of the season it was clear he’d lost power at the plate, plummeting from 20 home runs in 2012 to just 4 in 2014. In addition, his batting average has dropped 40 points in the same period. Mattingly favors the big bomber style of offense from his days in the American League, so he began platooning Ethier with the bearded Van Slyke, who was showing signs of the home run power that Ethier lacked.
In late May, before Kemp hit the full-Bison mode that he’s presently in, he was struggling at the plate as well, and a slew of writers and twitterheads were calling him out as a mediocre center fielder. After a particularly bad series against the Mets, Mattingly benched Kemp in favor of Ethier.
At the time I was happy to see Kemp benched, as I had advocated for Ethier to get his shot. Even though his batting average was down at the start of the season, Ethier retained some of his past Captain Clutch persona and was an excellent situational hitter. For the first month of the season he was second in RBI’s on the team – behind only Adrian Gonzalez, despite the fact his power numbers were almost non-existent. I was a firm believer he just needed to start consistently and he would soon get going again.
Ethier became the everyday center fielder and he legitimately got his shot. The problem was, although he brought a solid glove to center field, he started bringing an invisible bat to the plate. Ethier was taking his walks, but he stopped knocking in runs. His home run drought continued, and Mattingly was left with a choice between “Wild Horse” Puig, who just might hit a ball to the moon every at bat, and Ethier, who just might never hit a home run again. It was an easy call to make.
Ethier had his time to shine, but unfortunately he didn’t. The majors are all about performance, and if one can’t produce consistently, there’s always somebody else who can. Andre will finish 2014 on the bench, but he’s being mature about it. Good or him, because chances are high the Dodgers will try to trade him in the offseason. I’m sure he wants to appear as a “great teammate” to his potential future employers.
Meanwhile, Ethier has become a decent enough pinch-hitter, and he’ll definitely play a crucial role or two in the upcoming playoffs. I’m hoping he’s still got a shot of Captain Clutch left inside the tank.