Andre Ethier spreads it around for the Dodgers
Andre Ethier was sitting at his locker flipping through a magazine article about the royal wedding when the Dodgers’ right fielder was handed a set of color-coded charts.
The information was an anatomy of Ethier’s 29-game hitting streak and, in a nutshell, it framed Ethier’s streak as an impressive case study of consistency.
In compiling 43 hits in 111 at-bats during the streak, Ethier has spread his hits around the diamond, producing regardless of whether teammates were on base and connecting on all types of pitches.
But he clearly wasn’t impressed.
Handing the charts back, his face expressionless, Ethier deadpanned: “I’m not a big into-numbers guy.”
Known earlier in his career for a temper that resulted in more than a few smashed helmets, Ethier has shown a relative calm about the streak that his coaches say has probably helped him extend it.
And behind the poise is the confidence of an accomplished hitter with fierce work ethic and a vast knowledge of opposing pitchers.
“He probably spends more time in the cage than anybody I have,” said Jeff Pentland, the Dodgers’ hitting coach.
Ethier has tied Zack Wheat for the second-longest hitting streak in Dodgers history. He’s two games shy of the club record of 31 games, by Willie Davis in 1969.
The Dodgers open a seven-game trip Friday against the New York Mets after an off day Thursday. But how soon Ethier will be able to resume his quest to extend the streak is questionable. He has been nursing a sore left elbow and sat out his first game of the season Wednesday.
The charts illustrating his streak, provided by the baseball research firm Inside Edge, seem to support Ethier’s insistence that he hasn’t been walking to the plate each game with the streak weighing on his mind.
“I don’t see a lot of pressing,” Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti said. Then, glancing over the charts, he added: “I see balance.”
The so-called “spray chart” shows Ethier’s hits spread nearly evenly to all fields, although he pulled most of his 10 doubles and three home runs to right field. The spray is evidence of Ethier’s ability to “go with the pitch” rather always trying to hit in one direction.
“When he first came up [in 2006], he had a tendency to go to left-center,” Colletti said. “As he got more mature as a hitter, he started to pull it and that’s where the power started to come.”
Ethier is batting .370 this season — .387 during the streak, during which he has had 10 multiple-hit games. Another nugget: He’s batting .434 against fastballs, compared with the major-league average of .290.
He also has eight hits on the first pitch of an at-bat. “This doesn’t surprise me,” Pentland said, noting that Ethier knows which “ambush” pitchers will try to get ahead in the count, “and that’s when you see a lot of first-pitch swings.”
“He remembers how pitchers throw to him, he knows what area of the plate they’re going to attack, and what pitches they’re going to attack him with,” the coach added.
Manager Don Mattingly, who had 2,153 hits during his playing career, said Ethier “has got a good plan when he goes up there. He’s not a guy who goes up there just swinging.”
Still, Ethier has often struggled against left-handed pitching. So far this year he’s hitting .229 against left-handers versus .429 against right-handers.
And one pitch that gives Ethier trouble is a cut fastball from a right-hander that breaks down and in on him, a pitch that can belie Ethier’s otherwise calm demeanor these days.
“When the umpire gives [the pitchers] that cutter in,” calling it a strike, “it really irritates him,” Mattingly said. “He gets mad because he knows what [the pitchers] are trying to do. But if you get mad, you can’t hit that ball fair.”
Ethier batted .305 with 20 home runs in 2008 and .272 with 31 home runs in 2009, two years when slugger Manny Ramirez often was hitting before or after him in the lineup. And this year he’s hitting in front of Matt Kemp, who is batting .352 with a team-high six home runs.
Ethier also got off to a fast start last year, but then broke his right pinkie in May and struggled the rest of the season to regain his form. He still hit .292 with 23 home runs.
“I’m trying to get back to where I was before” the injury, Ethier said. “I feel like I’m doing the same thing, but sometimes I can see video that I’m still not as mechanically sound.”
It’s not for lack of trying.
“He spends up to 20 minutes” in the batting cage even before taking batting practice on the field, while “most guys are in there 10 minutes or less,” Pentland said. “Then after BP he’ll go back in there again, and then he’ll do it right before the game. He does it every day.”
No matter how the hits end up scattering across a chart, Ethier said, “I’m not feeling like [the streak] is going to define my season.
“I want to keep it going, I enjoy it, it’s fun. But what’s going to define my season is me being productive day in and day out, and finding any way to do it.”
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