ST. LOUIS -- Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier has been hindered by a left ankle injury since the middle of September -- an injury that limited him to only plate appearance over the final two weeks of the regular season.
He's been progressing, though, as he was able to bat four times in the NLDS triumph over the Braves. Optimally, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly would be able to plug Ethier in center field, where he emerged as the quasi-regular during Matt Kemp's run of injuries this season. Will that happen in the NLCS against the Cardinals? We know that Ethier will be on the roster, but Mattingly isn't so sure if he's ready to start running down fly balls. Here's what Mattingly said on Thursday regarding Ethier's status:
"We tried to push him yesterday. Honestly, for me, it didn't look that great out in centerfield. It looked better than before, but I don't know. This is the playoffs, and you've got to be able to play a hundred percent or pretty much full speed."
Mattingly's comments came prior to the Dodgers' workout on Thursday, and he indicated that he'd have a better idea after watching Ethier again. Ethier indeed showed further improvement during his workout, but CBSSports.com's Danny Knobler relays that the Dodgers don't expect Ethier to be able to play center at the start of the series. However, it's entirely possible he'll be ready for defensive detail by the back end of the NLCS. As well, the Dodgers don't think he'll require a pinch-runner, as he did in the NLDS.
We'll know even more on Friday, when the Dodgers are expected to finalize their NLCS roster by 10 am CST. Ethier will be on it, of course, but what's not yet decided is how they'll structure the roster to cover for Ethier in case he doesn't continue progressing or, worse, suffers a setback.
Ethier's not a good defensive center fielder, but his bat is such that's he a solid upgrade over Skip Schumaker even after you dock Ethier for his fly-catching. More to the point, Ethier is a career .309/.388/.518 hitter against right-handed pitching, and in the NLCS against the Cardinals he'll face all right-handed starters.
Given that, if the series goes long enough, the Dodgers will get a total of four doses of Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha, Ethier's regular presence is indeed needed. This being the NL, though, that means his ankle must be well enough to allow him to man center. At this writing, he seems to be getting there without yet being there.