Ethier's status unclear as NLDS approaches
Left ankle injury may limit outfielder to only pinch-hitting role
LOS ANGELES -- Andre Ethier thinks he can help the Dodgers as a pinch-hitter in the National League Division Series, but that might not be enough for the outfielder to make the roster.
Ethier has been hobbled for nearly a month by a left ankle injury similar to shin splints, which has prevented him from playing the field or rounding the bases. At this point, Ethier would only be available to pinch-hit Thursday in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Braves.
"We're hoping it's a hitting role right now and maybe more as the series progresses," Ethier said after working out with the Dodgers on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. "It's frustrating to be sitting here at this point. We're just trying to figure out a way to have me contribute and help any way I can, especially this first series."
The Dodgers know Ethier can hit and throw -- he did both during Tuesday's workout -- but they're not sure if he can run the bases or play the outfield. Those circumstances present a tough choice for management as they decide what to do with one of their best outfielders.
"We're going to try to determine if we're going to have him on the roster or not as soon as possible, and then we're going to try to wait as long as possible to see if he's going to be able to run," said manager Don Mattingly. "No. 1, can he just be a pinch-hitter? If he can do that, we'll make a determination. Everything that he can do helps us make a decision. We're trying to find out what he can do."
The Dodgers may be more inclined to carry Ethier in a limited role because fellow outfielder Matt Kemp is unavailable for the postseason due to his own ankle injury.
Ethier said he would know more about what he can do on the bases after Wednesday's workout in Atlanta. But whether he can run full speed or not, Ethier wants to be a part of the Dodgers' first postseason appearance in four years.
"I want to be out there playing," Ethier said. "If it's a pinch-hit role and that's what they need me to do, I want to do it. I want to help this team any way I can to win."
Ethier's lone pinch-hit in eight chances this season was a game-tying, two-run homer in the ninth inning against the Mets on Aug. 14.
Still, Ethier understands he could handcuff the manager if he requires someone to run for him should he reach base.
"If I'm fresh enough and able to go, a lot more goes in than just hitting," Ethier said. "You need all the guys on the bench and all your roster spots you need for whatever comes up ... I feel like I can contribute hitting-wise. Who knows what will happen once I get down to first?"
That uncertainty is enough to make the Dodgers consider a range of options in regards to their 25-man NLDS roster.
Said Mattingly: "What are we willing to accept, and then how do we set our roster accordingly if he can only pinch-hit?"
With Kemp sidelined, Ethier admitted he feels more urgency to play.
"I'd be lying if I said no," Ethier said. "That's what they're telling me not to do is have more urgency. All of our main decision guys are telling me this is no more pressure because Kemp is out. My first text back to them was I would try to step up the healing in any way I can. I think I feel a responsibility no matter who is out. With [Kemp] out it definitely adds, but it was added before that."
The Dodgers are calling Ethier's injury a left ankle sprain. He said the discomfort he has is believed to stem from the periosteum, the sheath that covers the bones of the leg, with pain similar to shin splints.
Ethier initially injured his left ankle on a swing in Colorado on Sept. 4 and aggravated it on a double against the Giants on Sept. 13, the last time he started. After more than a week of treatment, he encountered increased pain trying to round the bases in a workout in San Francisco on Sept. 24, leading to an MRI and CT scan the next day in Los Angeles, which showed his lower left leg had improved but not completely healed. Drs. Neal ElAttrache and Phillip Kwong, a foot and ankle specialist, cleared Ethier to return to games when he is able to run the bases without pain.
Ethier estimated he would have been shut down from baseball activities for a few weeks had the injury occurred earlier in the season.
"The more rest and the more I give this time to recover the better it will be," he said. "It's a lot easier said right now. If I rested it and shut down when I probably should have, I wouldn't even be available for the playoffs."
If Ethier is unavailable for the NLDS as a center fielder, Skip Schumaker would likely fill that role. Schumaker started 17 games in center during the regular season, third on the team behind Ethier (70) and Kemp (68).
Though his status for the NLDS remains in doubt, Ethier has been able to maintain some sense of humor.
"I'm talking to shamans, rubbing crystals on it and all kinds of stuff," he said. "You name it."
Austin Laymance is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.