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With pinch-hit HR, Ethier making playoff case

Maeda logs short start in advance for bullpen role in postseason
MLB.com @kengurnick

PHILADELPHIA -- Tryouts for the Dodgers' postseason roster continued on Thursday at Citizens Bank Park. Oh, they also cut their magic number to one.

As they have endured a rough September (6-15) while shuffling a bloated 39-man roster, it's been tough to figure out where the Dodgers' priorities were. But in a 5-4 comeback win over the Phillies, they made progress on both fronts.

Full Game Coverage

PHILADELPHIA -- Tryouts for the Dodgers' postseason roster continued on Thursday at Citizens Bank Park. Oh, they also cut their magic number to one.

As they have endured a rough September (6-15) while shuffling a bloated 39-man roster, it's been tough to figure out where the Dodgers' priorities were. But in a 5-4 comeback win over the Phillies, they made progress on both fronts.

Full Game Coverage

Andre Ethier is pulling off another late-season miracle. Last year he was a postseason factor after missing most of the regular season with a broken leg. He's missed most of this regular season with a back injury, but his September performance is again worthy of postseason duty. He slugged his second pinch-hit home run in only 25 at-bats, and sixth of his career, leading off the seventh inning to tie the game at 4.

Video: LAD@PHI: Ethier on his big pinch-hit homer

Ethier is swinging the bat about as well as any Dodger currently, but the starting left-field job that he once held is taken by Curtis Granderson, who also homered on Thursday and looks like he's getting streaky hot again.

"The writing was on the wall when they made the trade," Ethier said of his role off the bench and not in the starting lineup, where Granderson has started through streaks and slumps. "[Management] has a lot of decisions to make, but I have to keep showing up and doing it. Last year definitely can aid in having that confidence in playing the way I believe I can play.

Video: LAD@PHI: Granderson clubs a solo homer to right

"I'm still out there fighting to get fully locked in and ready and figure it out. I'm not concerned about October -- more concerned about today and then tomorrow and how I can keep progressing each day."

With management having determined that Kenta Maeda was headed for the bullpen next month, he was already ticketed for an abbreviated start on Thursday that was further stunted when he battled through a 31-pitch scoreless first inning, striking out the side and leaving the bases loaded.

Video: LAD@PHI: Maeda fans Herrera to get out of a jam

He was removed after 61 pitches because the club wants to see him pitch out of the bullpen several times next week. Maeda has made two relief appearances this year, allowing one run in five innings with a save and a .167 opposing average. If he isn't eager for relief, he said he's ready.

"I understand the reality, with the limited number of starters used in the postseason," Maeda said. "Obviously, I want to start, but I understand and want to do my best. With limited games left, I want to find the rhythm and flow for how to be successful out of the bullpen."

The struggles of fellow right-handers Pedro Baez, Ross Stripling and Josh Ravin have opened the door for Maeda to exploit his excellence against right-handed hitters, who have a .659 OPS against him, compared to .754 for left-handers.

"Going forward, we see him as a weapon in the bullpen," manager Dave Roberts said of Maeda. "He's done it and really thrived in that role. To get a couple days off, get in the 'pen and get acclimated for the postseason. The way he showed to acclimate to changing his routine. Throughout his career he's been very tough on right-hand hitters. In the postseason, when you're counting outs and looking at lineups you'll face and matchups, there's ways to deploy him to give him the best chance for success."

Top prospect Walker Buehler, who has been targeted by management for an October role since Spring Training, pitched a scoreless inning of relief for his first Major League victory and lowered his ERA to 10.13.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2001.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Los Angeles Dodgers