Maybe like a lot of people, you thought he was done. Too many years, too many injuries, too much past.
Certainly there were those in the Dodgers’ organization who thought Andre Ethier would never again approach his peak years. In the second half last season, he was sent to the bench. In the off-season, the Dodger would have welcomed a trade, but he was still owed $56 million and the takers did not line up.
He started the season back on the bench, a 33-year-old outfielder whose future appeared hazy at best. Only look at him now. Injuries to Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford created opportunity. Safe to say he’s seized it.
Ethier is batting .313 with six home runs and 17 RBI, with .407 on-base and .548 slugging percentages. He’s again playing a terrific right field. Back looking more like a two-time All-Star and a whole lot less the forgotten Dodger.
“I’m just happy for him. Happy for him personally,” said catcher A.J. Ellis. “Him and Clayton [Kershaw] and I are probably the longest-standing Dodgers we have left here. So I’ve known Andre for a long, long time.
“And to see the progression of his career, him getting to the point where he’s one of the top offensive players in all of baseball and then have it all come crashing down via injury and just kind of losing his position based on playing time.”
At the start of the 2010 season, Ethier was looking like one of baseball’s greatest hitters. He was a triple-crown candidate in the middle of May – leading the National League in hitting (.392), RBI (38) and tied for home runs (11) – when he fractured his right pinky. And thus began a series of injuries in the coming years – knee, hand, shin, and most significantly, fractured ankle.
His production became inconsistent and new players appeared. Crawford arrived in 2012. Puig became a sensation in 2013. This year phenom Joc Pederson arrived. Ethier’s time seemed in the past.
“He’s had a number of injuries,” said Manager Don Mattingly. “And sometimes when they come year after year, you start to forget what a guy is capable of.”
And no doubt throughout this, Ethier matured to better handle his situation. There are no more slamming of bats into the bat rack, no more one-fingered salutes to cameramen, no more outbursts to the press. Even last year, while he was relegated to the bench, he did not complain. Only in the off-season did he finally announce he wanted to start, with the Dodgers or somewhere else.
“He came to spring training ready for it,” Mattingly said. “He was in great condition. And he’s showing us that. He spoke up and backed it up and deserves to be playing every day.”
If Ethier is feeling any personal gratification at the way he’s now performing, he is keeping it private.
“Nah, satisfaction that we’re playing good ball and that we’re in first place,” Ethier said. “I’ve had somewhat of a little bit of a hand in contributing. That’s where I get my satisfaction, being able to be in the mix and help out with the way things are going.”
Ethier, of course, knows well this all could change any time. He’s seen that happen too now. At some point Crawford and Puig will return. The outfield will again be crowded and someone will again have to sit. There are trials still to come.
“My frame of mind is to just make the most of my opportunity every day,” he said. “I still don’t know what tomorrow will hold, from a week from now to going even further out. Just really making the most of an opportunity every time we get. Just be prepared for that one day. You just have to go out there and fight and keep going.”
Ethier is healthy now, which is no small factor in his recent play. The ankle that bothered him first in 2013 now seems hale, and his lower left leg is finally again strong.
So he’ll ride this out as long as he can, as long as the body stays strong. He doesn’t discredit Mattingly’s assertion that sometimes people forget what a player is capable of when he’s had to battle a series of injuries like Ethier's.
“Maybe a little bit,” he said. “Rightfully so. I’m not a guy who’s necessarily old old, but I’m not at the coming up ages of my career. I take pride in saying I played – so far – nine hard, good years here and left a lot on the field.
“That catches up to you after a while. When you keep getting nicked up over the course of that, those add up. From what happened the last couple of years, maybe a little gets forgotten. But I have to give lot of props to my teammates and coaching staff, people who were constantly reminding me of the player I can be still.”
For now, it goes on. He hit the go-ahead home run Monday in the Dodgers’ 6-3 win over the Braves. He still sits against most left-handed starters, but he has the fifth most at-bats on the team. Next month it could all change, but for now he is hardly the forgotten Dodger. He has worked himself back into being a key part of this year’s team.
“This guy’s work ethic is off the charts,” Ellis said. “He was even hitting in spring training when there wasn’t a position for him in the spring. This guy was getting after it in the cage, trying to make himself the best player he can be. Not just for the Dodgers, but if anyone else out there was looking for an outfielder.
“As baseball works out, injuries happen and there’s a spot for him. And he’s been huge for us. To have a guy of his caliber, most nights hitting sixth, seventh in the lineup, that’s just such a tough – speaking from a catching standpoint – seeing that guy at the bottom, you’re in for a battle.”
By now Ethier knows a little something about battling. About winning and losing, about growing and persevering. And as we’ve all learned, he is not done yet.