Dodgers' Andre Ethier embracing role of versatile outfielder

MESA, Ariz. — Andre Ethier's move to center field last year was sudden. Matt Kemp suffered a strained hamstring muscle and the next day Ethier was asked to do something he hadn't done regularly since college.

Now, with an entire spring to prepare himself to play the position, Ethier expects to be more comfortable in the middle of the outfield this season than he was last.

"I think you learn some of the finer points that come with that position, the things that you're able to do, how you cut off balls," he said.

But Ethier's focus extends beyond center field. Considered the most versatile of the Dodgers' outfielders, Ethier could be asked to move around the outfield if Kemp returns. Ethier has embraced the idea, knowing it could keep him in the lineup and benefit the team.

Ethier played center field Friday but was in left the day before.

"You see across the board, I think more managers are searching for players like that," he said. "You want three or four guys on the team so you can use and interchange them and make your team better as a whole."

Ethier said the idea of moving him to first base as part of a late-game double switch has been discussed with him. He hasn't practiced at first base but said with a smile, "I'm going to do it the way I did center field last year, just go out and do it."

Ethier is also hoping to rediscover the offensive form that made him a two-time All-Star. He had a down year offensively last season, batting .272 with 12 home runs and 52 runs batted in.

"I'm progressing nicely," he said. "We worked hard all off-season with the staff here and we worked hard this spring training to get back to what I'm capable of doing."

He was one for two with a double and a walk Friday, raising his spring average to .364.

Still sore

With the thumb on his pitching hand still bothering him, right-hander Josh Beckett completed only three of the four innings he was scheduled to pitch Friday. Beckett sprained his thumb almost two weeks ago.

"It's just sore," he said. "It's not getting worse, but it's not getting better."

Beckett said he still has trouble gripping a curveball.

That didn't prevent him from pitching well. Relying on a mix of fastballs and changeups, Beckett held the Chicago Cubs to a hit and a walk over three scoreless innings. He was particularly pleased in that he induced five batters into ground outs.

"I always feel if I'm getting ground balls, I'll be fine," he said.

Beckett is expected to remain in Arizona on Sunday when the Dodgers depart for their season-opening two games in Australia.

The Dodgers won't have to use their fifth starter until a couple weeks into April, making Beckett a probable candidate to open the season on the disabled list. Such a move would allow the Dodgers to retain an extra relief pitcher or bench player.

Short hops

Manager Don Mattingly returned to the camp after taking two days off because of a death in his family. … The Dodgers still don't know whether Carl Crawford will make the trip to Australia. Crawford is awaiting the birth of his third child. … The Dodgers and Cubs drew 15,191 fans to the Cubs' spring-training stadium to set a single-game Cactus League attendance record.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Twitter: @dylanohernandez

 

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