Limited Ethier likely to be on Dodgers' NLDS roster
Outfielder reports small improvement, will be restricted to pinch-hitting
ATLANTA -- With Matt Kemp leading cheers on crutches and Andre Ethier reduced to only pinch-hitting, right fielder Yasiel Puig will be relocated from the top of the Dodgers' batting order to the middle for Thursday night's Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Braves (5:30 p.m. PT on TBS).
Ethier is expected to be on the roster the Dodgers submit at 7 a.m. PT Thursday, but based on what he was able to do, and not do, during Wednesday's workout, he'll play the role of Kirk Gibson -- mostly a decoy, with the possibility of late-inning heroics.
The absence of two key bats will prompt manager Don Mattingly to bat Puig fifth, behind Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez, with Carl Crawford moving back up to leadoff. Crawford last batted leadoff Sept. 8. For most of the final month, Puig led off with Crawford batting second.
The Dodgers were 50-35 with Crawford batting leadoff and 9-4 when he hit second. They were 15-11 with Puig at the top, 37-14 with Puig batting second, 12-5 with Puig at cleanup and 0-1 with Puig batting fifth.
Mattingly did not announce his roster or lineup at Wednesday's workout news conference. The lineup is likely to be: Crawford, left field; Mark Ellis, second base; Ramirez, shortstop; Gonzalez, first base; Puig, right field; Juan Uribe, third base; A.J. Ellis, catcher; Skip Schumaker, center field; Clayton Kershaw, pitcher.
The Dodgers still have difficult roster moves to make, with veterans Chris Capuano, Brandon League and Jerry Hairston in jeopardy of being left off because of the acquisitions of Brian Wilson, Carlos Marmol and Michael Young.
Keeping Ethier active might mean the inclusion of Dee Gordon for pinch-running duties, and it makes an 11-man pitching staff most likely.
Ethier went through a customized workout Wednesday. After tracking pitches from Ricky Nolasco in the bullpen, Ethier jogged in to take batting practice, then twice ran half-speed from first base to second base. With Dr. Neal ElAttrache and medical director Stan Conte watching, Ethier did not attempt to round any bases, which he has said gives him the greatest pain.
"Same thing as yesterday," Ethier said afterward. "It's still going good and going in the direction we want to go, but obviously not all the way there yet."
Ethier did not take fly balls. Based on his restricted movement, it would be surprising if he could. With Kemp also out, Schumaker is expected to get the bulk of playing time in center field, although Gordon and Scott Van Slyke have been taking fly balls there this week.
"Definitely not tomorrow," Ethier said Wednesday when asked if he'd be able to play the outfield this series. "I'm not going to be playing the outfield tomorrow. Whatever they need me for, I'm good with that. And I'm just getting ready for whatever my duty is going into that first game."
Though Ethier's opportunities to make an impact in the NLDS figure to be limited, Gonzalez is still confident that Ethier will find a way to make his mark on the series.
"We're still going to be able to use him in a key situation, so he's still in there and we still have his bat," Gonzalez said. "He'll be part of all this."
Ethier initially suffered the injury above and to the outside of his left ankle -- which he described as being similar to painful shin splints -- during the Dodgers' Sept. 4 game in Colorado. He later aggravated the injury Sept. 13 and has been unable to start a game since.
Following the aggravation, Ethier received a week of treatment before experiencing increased pain while trying to round the bases in a workout in San Francisco.
"It's getting better every day," Ethier said. "Maybe not as fast as we want, but it is on the timetable we knew it'd probably be on going into it. Every day that it doesn't get more sore or set me back is a good day. So that's what we're happy about after today's workout."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.