Ethier on track for expanded role in NLCS
Outfielder feels good during Dodgers' workout, while Hanley takes break
LOS ANGELES -- Hobbled Hanley Ramirez was kept indoors, but healing Andre Ethier was running down fly balls in the gap Wednesday as the Dodgers worked out at Dodger Stadium in preparation for Friday's start of the National League Championship Series.
As he did throughout the NL Division Series, Ramirez is expected to be in the starting lineup at shortstop for Game 1 in St. Louis. And Ethier is a good bet to be in center field if he feels as well Friday as he looked Wednesday, turning and sprinting full speed to chase fly balls while the Cardinals-Pirates game was being shown on the video boards.
"It feels good," Ethier said. "We'll see where I am tomorrow."
Ramirez is nursing long-running injuries to his lower back, hamstring and shoulder. Providing further evidence that he's playing in considerable pain, he was the only player that did not work out in the cool and damp weather as a precautionary measure. Of course, Ramirez plays in pain pretty well, having hit .500 with six extra-base hits against the Braves.
After the Cards won and the opponent was determined, the Dodgers bused to the airport for an overnight flight to Missouri. They will work out at Busch Stadium on Thursday and Zack Greinke will start Game 1 on Friday (TBS), with Clayton Kershaw starting Game 2 on Saturday. Ricky Nolasco and Hyun-Jin Ryu will probably start Games 3 and 4 in Los Angeles on Monday and Tuesday, but manager Don Mattingly wouldn't confirm that.
Nolasco pitched five innings of a simulated game during the workout, while Kershaw threw a bullpen session with no apparent residual effects from pitching six innings on short rest in Monday's clincher over the Braves. Chris Capuano, whose three innings of long relief rescued a rough start by Ryu that turned into a Game 3 win, threw a full bullpen session as if he were preparing to start a game.
The Dodgers were 4-3 against the Cardinals this year: 1-2 at home from May 24-26, 3-1 at St. Louis from Aug. 5-8. Greinke was 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA; Kershaw was 0-2 with a 4.15 ERA; Ryu was 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA; Nolasco was 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA (with Miami).
Capuano was 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA, but with Paco Rodriguez slumping, Capuano could just as easily serve as a situational left-hander to go with J.P. Howell as a long reliever.
Mattingly admitted he's concerned about Rodriguez, who had a 5.68 ERA in September, then allowed four hits including a two-run homer in two appearances against the Braves.
"Anybody who struggles you're concerned with," Mattingly said. "You try to pay attention to what's going on with them, what's happening. Is there a little change here or there? Are they tired? Have they lost confidence? Whatever it is. This is something he hasn't been through. He hasn't struggled like this. He's basically pitched lights-out from the time he's gotten here. This is basically the first time this has happened to him, and that's always a critical time."
Ethier looked more athletic than any time since he injured the leg on a swing in Colorado on Sept. 4 and reinjured it on a double against the Giants on Sept. 13, the last time he started a game.
The club is calling the injury a left ankle sprain. Ethier said the discomfort he has is believed to stem from the periosteum, the sheath that covers the bones of the leg, with pain similar to shin splints.
The club decided to keep Ethier on the 25-man active roster for the NLDS exclusively for pinch-hitting because he was unable to round the bases or move laterally in the outfield. He went 0-for-3 with a walk in the role.
Now the club believes Ethier is capable of more.
"We feel pretty good that he's definitely going to be able to do more than he was able to do the last series," Mattingly said. "We feel like there's going to be a lot more scenarios where Andre is going to be involved. That's part of our decision-making process, too. How much can Andre do? How much can we trust him to be able to do? Things like that change who you would keep, who you wouldn't keep. Everything is still pretty fluid with who is going to be on it."
Ethier also had about 25 at-bats during the sim game, but he was cautious about making any predictions for his role in the NLCS. The medical department had Ethier hold off on running the bases because that presents the greatest risk and has been the toughest hurdle to clear. Maybe that will happen Thursday in St. Louis.
"He gets out here and runs today and tries to turn a base and we're right back to square one," said Mattingly. "Right now, we've really got to wait for him to see where it goes."
Ethier said he was encouraged by his Wednesday workout and agreed with Mattingly's expectation that he will have a bigger role in the NLCS than in the NLDS.
Skip Schumaker started all four games in center field during the NLDS, hitting .231 with two RBIs.
Pitching single innings in the simulated game were Brandon League, Carlos Marmol, Edinson Volquez and Chris Withrow. Only Withrow was on the NLDS roster.
League, Marmol, Volquez, Jerry Hairston, Peter Moylan, Nick Buss and Drew Butera continue to work with the club. They were not on the NLDS roster. Mattingly wouldn't reveal if there would be any changes to the roster for the NLCS.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.