Andre Ethier glad to be healthy

Updated: February 25, 2011, 9:17 PM ET
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Andre Ethier is mostly looking forward this spring, but the Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder doesn't mind looking back. His 2010 season wasn't exactly a rousing success, but it was a compelling story that is worth re-examining, especially now that the fracture near the end of the little finger on his right hand has finally had a chance to heal over the winter and is no longer an issue.

Who knew such a tiny bone could cause a man so much agony?

"It was probably my worst year, performance-wise," Ethier said. "Even though, statistically, it was probably the second best of my five years up here."

Yes, it was that kind of season for Ethier, one in which he looked for all the world like a budding National League Most Valuable Player for the six glorious weeks before his pinkie slipped below the knob of his bat on a single swing on a single day in a single indoor batting cage somewhere under Petco Park in San Diego. It was precisely the kind of thing baseball people are talking about when they refer to "freak injuries," and while it's hard to blame the Dodgers' disappointing season on that one moment, it certainly didn't help the cause.

It also didn't help Ethier, who was back in two weeks but was never the same the rest of the year, his first career NL All-Star selection and his decent overall numbers mostly a reflection of what he did before the injury.

Ethier said there were spurts after he returned when he felt as if he were getting that feeling back -- or, perhaps more accurately, getting his swing back; he said that even before the injury, he never felt like he was in that proverbial mental "zone" that so many hitters like to talk about. But then, just as quickly as it would come, it would go away again, leaving him frustrated and still searching.

At the time of his injury, which happened May 15, Ethier was lighting up NL pitching, batting .392 with 11 doubles, 11 homers, 38 RBIs and a .457 on-base percentage in 33 games. After his return May 31, he hit .260 with 22 doubles, 12 homers, 44 RBIs and a .335 OBP in 106 games the rest of the way.

It added up to a decent season: .292, 23 homers, 82 RBIs. But those numbers don't come close to telling the story.

Ethier freely admits that he continued to experience intermittent pain in the finger the rest of the season, especially if he made contact in a certain way, and that it didn't fully heal until he had a chance to rest it for an entire offseason. That would seem to suggest he might have benefited from giving it a little more than two weeks to heal in the first place, but Ethier stops just short of admitting that.

"I mean, yes, I can say that," he said. "But at the same time, no, because it's not fun to sit there watching. I felt I was capable of playing at that same high level every day. And there are a lot of adjustments you have to make in this game."

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, who was the team's hitting coach last year, understands why Ethier doesn't want to second-guess himself on coming back so quickly.

"He doesn't really make any excuses like that," Mattingly said. "But a hand injury is a tough injury for a hitter, especially the bottom hand because that is your strength hand, where you're really pulling down. He didn't say much about it, but he never really got back to that same thing. We saw spurts of the same thing, but it didn't seem like he was able to hold it like he did the first half.

"Of course, it's hard to hold it like he did the first half. That was lightning."

If nothing else, the Dodgers got a glimpse last year of what Ethier is capable of when he is completely healthy. He says he is completely healthy now. Exactly what that means for him and the club won't be known for at least a few more weeks.

DeJesus shows versatility

Ivan DeJesus Jr. played third base for the Mattingly-managed Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League for the first time in his life this winter, primarily because it was the only place left to put him after all the other prospects from all the other organizations had been accommodated. But in doing so, DeJesus proved to be at least adequate in what might be the most difficult position in the infield, notably in terms of reaction time.

The result was a more versatile player, which can only help the longtime Dodgers prospect in his bid this spring to secure what probably is the last spot on the 25-man roster.

"It was comfortable for me there," said DeJesus, who continued to play there in the Puerto Rican winter league after the AFL season. "It was a little bit of an adjustment, of course. The batter is a lot closer, and the ball gets to you a lot more quickly."

DeJesus said one ground ball in Puerto Rico, in the rain on a wet artificial surface, got to him so quickly he didn't have time to react, and the first thing it hit was the front end of one of his spikes.

"My toe was totally black for about three weeks," he said.

By proving he can handle a third position, though, DeJesus has put himself squarely in the middle of a competition for a utility-infield spot that also includes veterans Juan Castro and Aaron Miles and Justin Sellers, a longtime minor leaguer who had a breakout season at Triple-A Albuquerque last year. The only question now is whether that position will exist. Outfielder Xavier Paul is out of minor league options, and if the Dodgers decide to keep him, that probably eliminates the last utility-infield spot.

Meanwhile, Mattingly said DeJesus' playing time in the Cactus League will be divided, on a roughly equal basis, among second, third and short. DeJesus is likely to be judged primarily on his offense, but Mattingly said club officials also will weigh whether his development will be hindered by being a utilityman and playing sporadically in the majors as opposed to getting four at-bats a game in the minors.

Short hops

The satin, powder-blue uniforms the Brooklyn Dodgers wore during the 1940s won in a fan poll to determine which throwback unis the team will wear during six midweek day games at Dodger Stadium this season. The road uniform the club wore in 1911 finished second in the balloting by fewer than 2,000 votes. Ironically, the blue uniforms were created for night games, which were a new thing in the '40s, because the reflective fabric made them more visible under the lights. How they look under the Southern California summer sun has yet to be determined. ... Fifteen of the Dodgers' spring training games will be televised back to the Los Angeles area -- 12 of them on Prime Ticket, the other three on KCAL Channel 9 -- beginning with Sunday's home opener against the Los Angeles Angels, which will be shown on Prime. One of Saturday's split-squad Cactus League openers, a 12:05 p.m. PT game against the San Francisco Giants in Scottsdale, Ariz., will be carried on KABC 790, the team's flagship radio station.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Tony Jackson

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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