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Dodgers plan to start Hanley, Ethier in Game 6

Outfielder feels good despite injured leg; team hopes rest helps Ramirez

ST. LOUIS -- Manager Don Mattingly said he expects Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier to be in the Dodgers' starting lineup Friday for Game 6 of the National League Championship Series (5:30 p.m. PT, TBS), although he sounded more confident about the outfielder with the broken leg than the infielder with the broken rib.

"I expect Andre to play; he felt as good [in Game 5] as he's felt since coming back," Mattingly said Thursday regarding Ethier, who has a microfracture in his lower left leg. "He just seems to get a little bit stronger as far as being out on the field. We checked on him late. We thought about if we were going to defend for him late. We were comfortable with what we were seeing, and he was comfortable also. So I expect him, for sure, to be able to play.

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"I expect the same thing for Hanley. I think he'll try to play. He's been trying to play every day. I think he'll do the same as far as going out there and doing the best he can for us and we'll just make an assessment tomorrow as we do the lineup."

The hairline fracture of Ramirez's eighth rib, suffered from a 95 mph Joe Kelly fastball in Game 1, has resulted in Ramirez being lifted after six innings in Games 4 and 5.

"We don't feel like he's getting any worse," Mattingly said. "It's just a matter of how the game goes for him. The first day it seemed like he was able to stay loose and be comfortable the whole game. The second day there in L.A. was probably the worst day as far as feeling everything and just didn't look comfortable at all on the field.

"Yesterday was OK. So it's just a process with the trainers more than talking with him the whole time and kind of saying that this is going on with him. So really I'm getting information as the game goes on from the trainers, if he's starting to feel tightness or something else, especially when we get towards the latter innings when there was a possibility of a double-switch in there for him. We know there is a pitching change coming. We need to know how he's feeling so we don't end up moving somebody else out of the game, [with] him being the guy up a half inning later that needs to come out."

Mattingly and the team flew to St. Louis on Thursday afternoon, with no workout scheduled. Speaking on a media conference call, he said that by saving Ramirez from three innings Wednesday, then a complete day off Thursday and a night game Friday, Ramirez will have had "almost three days off.

"I'm hoping this gives him a little bit of relief," he said. "But I do think it's something that until he stops actually trying to swing a bat and twist and things like that, this thing's not going to fully heal."

Although Ramirez is clearly limited by his injury, Mattingly said he will continue to play him -- "to a point."

"If he says, 'Oh, I'll go out there but I don't feel like I can do anything,' then we're going to have to make a decision," Mattingly said. "I look at Nick [Punto] and he can ... he's capable of swinging the bat and getting hits and doing some things on the field, too. Hanley is a lot like Andre. He's got to feel he can do something. Even though he hasn't gotten hits, a couple swings yesterday looked more like himself. Not 100 percent, but better. Hanley's just got to be honest. I don't need a hero to say he can go, but he's not able to do something. He's got to be able to do something."

Ramirez has been tentative at the plate and in the field. Ethier hasn't shown power at the plate, but he's run well straight ahead. He seems to have the most discomfort trying to stop, in the field and especially on the bases.

Ramirez is batting .176 (2-for-12) in the series with five strikeouts, both hits soft singles and his power apparently hampered.

Punto is 2-for-6 with four strikeouts, one of the hits a double, after which he was picked off second base. Skip Schumaker, who started one game in place of Ethier, is 0-for-5.

Excluding Punto, the Dodgers bench has done nothing. The biggest disappointment so far is Michael Young, who started one game at shortstop in place of Ramirez. He is 0-for-6 in the series. The Dodgers dealt for the seven-time All-Star at the deadline and he hit .314 in September, so they kept him on the postseason roster instead of utility man Jerry Hairston.

The Dodgers bench is a combined 2-for-18 in this series. The Cardinals off the bench are 3-for-16, but that includes Shane Robinson's pinch-homer.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for

Los Angeles Dodgers, Andre Ethier, Hanley Ramirez