Simple approach suits improving Ethier
WASHINGTON -- Last month, Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier met with manager Don Mattingly, hitting coach Mark McGwire and assistant hitting coach John Valentin. The veteran had been struggling through much of the season, with his average dipping as low as .229 in early June, and the coaches gave him a simple message.
"Let's just work on, every day go out there and get one hit and build from that one hit and keep building from there," Ethier recalled after Saturday's game, when his solo home run in the top of the ninth inning provided the go-ahead tally in a 3-2 win over the Nationals.
Ethier seems to have taken that approach and run with it. Since June 11, he is hitting .342 with a .413 on-base percentage in 32 games. His season average has climbed to .269.
He also has split his time in left field, moving over from his natural right-field position to make room for Yasiel Puig, and center, where the Dodgers needed help with Matt Kemp on the disabled list.
"I don't think a whole lot's changed mechanically," Mattingly said of Ethier. "I think the fact that he seems to be happy playing and he's playing all over for us and making contributions in that way, and sometimes that frees you up to not only think about your hitting, so he's been able to make contributions in different areas. He's just given us good at-bats."
Ethier said that when he went to the plate against Nationals closer Rafael Soriano in Friday's ninth inning, Mattingly simply told him to get on base any way he could. Instead, he lofted the ball just over the right-field wall for his sixth home run and first since June 11.
The one element missing from Ethier's resurgence had been power. He is still slugging .389, 80 points below his career mark. Mattingly believes a string of injuries has cut into Ethier's power since he hit a career-best 31 homers in 2009, but he believes the underlying ability is still present.
"I think that 30 home runs is there and the damage is there," Mattingly said. "Obviously it's going to change as you get older and get banged up and things happen, but I still think he's plenty good enough so that one of those years is still in there."
Ethier agrees, although he knows a 30-homer season is likely out of reach in 2013.
"Well, if I do it this year," he said, "that's going to be a miracle."