Andre Ethier looking for balance
The Dodgers' power hitter admitted he lost his way trying to extend his hit streak
LOS ANGELES -- It wasn't much more than another ho-hum, postgame interview, of the sort he had given hundreds of times in his career and will give hundreds of times more unless he suddenly goes Manny Ramirez on us. But Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier apparently was in a confessional mood following a 7-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies before 36,962 on Monday night at Dodger Stadium -- a win that gave the Dodgers their first two-game winning streak in almost three weeks.
So he let fly with a stunning revelation about the 30-game hitting streak he put together earlier this season.
"I don't think I had a good feeling during the streak, really," Ethier said. "I was just getting hits. I think that was the problem. I was going up there doing the wrong thing mechanics-wise just to get hits rather than doing it the right way and the way I'm used to."
Wow. So that explains it. Makes it a little easier to understand why, once that streak finally ended one game shy of the franchise record on May 7, Ethier would hit .145 over his next 15 games. That drought culminated in him hurting his back, elbow and toe crashing into the right-field wall on May 22 against the Chicago White Sox and then being unceremoniously yanked from the game mid-inning when, as an apparent result of those injuries, he was unable to get to a pop fly on the very next play.
"I need a guy who can go out there and be 100 percent," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said before the last of those games. "I can't get a guy out there who can only go 70 percent."
Ethier wouldn't start any of the next three games, but he would pinch hit in all three and deliver a two-run double in one of them.
Mostly, though, he spent those three games working.
"Hitting-wise, it was just a lot of mechanical stuff that I did," Ethier said. "I was just trying to dial it in a little bit and get to where I think I should be and need to be."
In four games since Ethier returned to the lineup, he is 8-for-14 with two doubles and a home run. He drove in three runs with a pair of well-timed singles against the Rockies, the first at the end of a magnificent, eight-pitch at-bat in the third inning. He fouled off two two-strike pitches, worked the count full, then drove a fastball back up the middle off Rockies starter Jason Hammel, who deflected it just enough that second baseman Eric Young had no chance to get to it.
That hit, with the bases loaded and nobody out, gave the Dodgers a 2-0 lead from which they never looked back.
This was the calm, collected Ethier, the one opposing pitchers hate to face in clutch situations. It was the Ethier we see most of the time, but it also was the Ethier we don't see nearly enough. The other Ethier, the emotional one, the frustrated one is the one we saw a lot of during that 15-game stretch following the hitting streak.
"You see it go back and forth," Mattingly said. "I still think he battles himself a lot and gets frustrated. It hurts his game, to be honest with you. It's better, but for him to really turn the page and be that star type of player he has to find that balance."
Ethier, who also drove in a run with a single off Hammel in the fifth to keep the fourth-place Dodgers (25-30) within 5 1/2 games of the division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League West, didn't deny that he is occasionally guilty of that.
"Maybe sometimes," he said. "It depends. If I go up there feeling like I don't have a shot because my mechanics aren't what I want them to be, yeah. But if I feel like I'm giving myself the best opportunity I can and I still don't get results, I can live with that at the end of the day."
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During his hitting streak, Ethier tried his best to play it off, to act like it was a good story but that it wasn't really his focus. Only now does he admit that it largely was his focus, that he fell into the habit of sometimes trying to get one over the infield or through a hole to extend the streak. That at least partially explains why, of his 46 total hits during the streak, 33 of them were singles and only three were home runs.
In a lineup that isn't exactly murderer's row, Ethier is one of the Dodgers' only power sources. They need him to hit for a high average and have a high on-base percentage, for sure. But they also need him to deliver the loud hits.
"[Former manager] Joe [Torre] used to always say to me, 'Rather than just going up there thinking single, I still want you to try to drive the ball in certain counts,"' Ethier said. "`That is why you're in the middle of the lineup.' [But] it's tough to hit for power the way I was hitting before, mechanics-wise and where I was. It was a lot of things. [Hitting coach Jeff Pentland] always says it's small adjustments made day to day, but when you're looking at four or five adjustments that you have to make to what you're doing right now, it's tough to make all those adjustments in one at-bat."
That was where the three days off came in so handy for Ethier. He said he isn't completely cured yet, that he still sometimes catches himself during an at-bat thinking about his balance, his hands and his body positioning. But he clearly is getting there, and is finding a comfort level at the plate that exceeds even the way he felt during that hitting streak.
For the Dodgers, who finally appear to be getting themselves together offensively just as the possibility of actually contending in the NL West doesn't seem so farfetched anymore, Ethier's timing couldn't be more perfect.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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