Dodgers' Ethier heads to DL
LOS ANGELES -- There was no initial indication or estimate from anyone in the Dodgers organization -- not from the medical staff, not from manager Joe Torre, not from general manager Ned Colletti and not from Andre Ethier himself -- as to how long Ethier will be out of action after being placed on the 15-day disabled list for the first time in his career on Tuesday because of the small fracture in his right little finger he suffered taking batting practice before Saturday night's game at San Diego.
"It could be two to three weeks," Torre said. "If it's longer, it's longer."
The key will be how long it takes for the fracture to actually heal. The preferred course of treatment for such an injury, and the course of treatment the medical staff will take with Ethier, is no treatment at all. The idea is that eventually, the fracture will heal on its own, and until it does, Ethier won't be allowed to return.
"The doctors have told me that it does heal itself," Torre said on Andre Ethier Bobblehead Night. "Once you put it together like that [in a splint], it sort of grows back together."
Ethier said team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache gave him only the roughest of rough estimates as to how much time he can expect to miss.
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"It was pretty broad," Ethier said. "Three to six [weeks]. Or maybe two to four."
Either way, he was disappointed.
"I took pride in playing every day and playing through some of the nagging stuff," Ethier said. "This is a year that has challenged me more in terms of playing every day.
"There was the knee that held me out the last couple of games in spring training, and then there was the ankle thing in the second game of the season. Those are bigger things that you expect to hold you out, but a small little chip of a bone off your pinkie, that was the last thing I thought about at this point."
To take Ethier's roster spot, the Dodgers recalled outfielder Xavier Paul from Triple-A Albuquerque and immediately inserted him into the starting lineup, playing right field and batting second on Tuesday night against Houston. Torre indicated there won't be a regular right fielder during Ethier's absence, but that instead, Paul, Reed Johnson and Garret Anderson will share the job.
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"We're going to try to spread it around and keep everybody sharp," Torre said.
Paul was hitting .388 with four homers, 11 RBIs and a .430 on-base percentage at Triple-A Albuquerque.
Ethier entered the day leading the National League in hitting (.392) and RBIs (38) and tied for the league lead in home runs (11). This marks the second consecutive May in which the Dodgers have lost one of their hottest hitters for an extended period, with Manny Ramirez suspended for 50 games last year for violating baseball's drug policy. The Dodgers weathered that storm, going 29-21 in Ramirez's absence, and Colletti said they will weather this one, as well.
"When you lose one of the best hitters in your lineup, you simply have to find a way to make up for it," Colletti said. "Last year, we lost Manny for 50 games. We aren't going to just go out and make a trade for somebody."
The Dodgers' entered Tuesday on an eight-game winning streak, their longest since a nine-game stretch in 2006. The primary reason is a pitching staff that has fashioned a 1.75 ERA over the past eight games.
"What makes it bad is the team part," Ethier said. "We're really coming together as a team, and it's been a long month and a half to get ourselves into the position we've gotten ourselves into right now. So to be missing time because of something like that is the tough part."
Torre said Ethier's finger will be X-rayed in a couple of weeks to gauge his progress. The move was made retroactive to Saturday, meaning Ethier will be eligible to return on May 30 at Colorado, but no one is counting on him being back that quickly. In the meantime, Ethier will continue to participate in all the pregame drills he possibly can, including throwing (not catching) and baserunning.
Ethier has 11 walkoff hits since the end of the 2008 season, six of them home runs. His two game-ending hits this season were an RBI single on April 15 against Arizona and a grand slam on May 6 against Milwaukee.
"Individual performance is nice and definitely makes you feel a little bit better about yourself at the end of the night," Ethier said. "But when we're sitting two games out at this point in time after being six out, that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, not to be out there and help keep this thing going."
The injury happened as a result of the way Ethier normally holds the bat, in which Ethier said the little finger often slips out of its regular place during a swing and falls below the knob. But this time, he said, the finger slipped not below the knob, but all the way to the other side of the bat handle, meaning it was actually on the opposite side of the bat from the other four fingers of his right hand as he swung.
He said he wasn't sure whether the fracture happened when the bat made contact with the ball or when he followed through on the swing. What he was sure about, though, was that he has no intention of changing the way he holds a bat when he returns.
"I'm going to keep doing it the same way," he said. "As soon as I feel like I can swing pain-free, I'll go back to swinging the way I always have and go from there."
Torre and Colletti agreed that altering Ethier's swing would be the wrong approach.
"I never really thought of it like that," Colletti said. "This has popped up once. How many times has he swung a bat in his life?"
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.