It's becoming a familiar pattern. As the months heat up, so does Andre Ethier.
The Dodgers right fielder has raised his batting average in each of the first three months this season, just as he did last year when he hit .324 after his call-up in May, followed by .344 in June and .362 in July.
Of course, Ethier got off to a considerably slower start this season, hitting .250 in April, but there are recent signs that he may be starting to recapture the form that made him one of the league's top rookies last year.
His two-run home run in the eighth inning Sunday provided the winning run against Pittsburgh, and his ninth-inning single Tuesday started a short-lived rally against San Diego closer Trevor Hoffman.
"I'm starting to see and recognize pitches early and be able to put a good swing on them and do what I want with it, but I really don't feel like I'm swinging the bat the way I'm capable of," said Ethier, who hit .289 in May and was hitting .316 this month before the Dodgers played the Padres on Wednesday night at Petco Park.
"I really haven't gotten hot in my terms yet the way I'm capable of doing it."
Ethier said last season's success has helped him rebound from his poor start in 2007.
"Just knowing and believing that I could play here helped me out a lot from last year to this year," said Ethier, who took a seven-game hitting streak into Wednesday's game. "If I had been in that situation last year, I don't know how I would have handled the tough start."
Ethier said he was still trying to regain the hitting stroke he had before a shoulder injury last year that led to a late-season slide in which he lost his starting job to Marlon Anderson.
"The whole shoulder thing kind of messed with the mechanics of my swing and I'm trying to get that back to where it was the previous couple of years," he said. "It's been slower than I thought it would to get back, but hopefully in the next couple of weeks, by the All-Star break I can get things going back full-blown."
Barring a setback, closer Takashi Saito should be available to return Friday when the Dodgers open a series against Toronto at Dodger Stadium, Manager Grady Little said.
Saito threw off the bullpen mound Wednesday and was scheduled to complete fielding drills today to check for discomfort in his sore left hamstring.
Little acknowledged that he spoke with Juan Pierre about his approach at the plate after Pierre saw only seven pitches Tuesday while going hitless in four at-bats with three pop flies. With runners on first and second and two out in the seventh inning, Pierre grounded out on the first pitch.
"Anyone's job at the top of the lineup where he always hits is to get on base and score runs," Little said. "He knows that he's been better in the past and he knows that he needs to be better now."
Saying that his surgically repaired right elbow hasn't felt this good "in probably three years," Anderson prepared to embark on a rehabilitation assignment starting today at triple-A Las Vegas that could last several weeks. "It's spring training for me," said Anderson, who had scar tissue removed from his elbow last month.
Minor league pitcher Scott Elbert had arthroscopic surgery for scar tissue in his left shoulder and was expected to sit out eight to 10 weeks.