Ethier a 'possibility' to join Hanley in starting lineup
Outfielder a game-time decision after positive workout; shortstop nursing injuries
ST. LOUIS -- Andre Ethier didn't start the last 15 regular-season games or any of the playoff games against the Braves, while Hanley Ramirez sat out in 10 of the last 16 games of the regular season. The latter was by design, the former from necessity, but Ethier could rejoin Ramirez in the starting lineup for Game 1 of the National League Championship Series on Friday (5:30 p.m. PT on TBS and Postseason.TV).
Manager Don Mattingly indicated Ethier could be a game-time decision after he looked even better during Thursday's workout at Busch Stadium than he did in a Wednesday workout at Dodger Stadium.
"For me, it looks like a possibility," said Mattingly. "He's not going to be 100 percent, but close to it. He's got to be able to make the plays in the outfield. And the baserunning is the big question."
The Dodgers were able to advance past the first round of the postseason by restricting Ethier to pinch-hitting and keeping him from stressing a lower left leg injury similar to shin splints.
The club took a similar conservative approach to nursing Ramirez through the month of September, as he dealt with lower back, hamstring and shoulder issues that still require hours of therapy each day.
"This is what we thought going into the postseason," said Ethier. "I'd have a pinch-hit role with a chance to play one game in the first round, but get into the next round and definitely get on the field for maybe a whole game or a double-switch role, but at least play defense and not just a pinch-hit role."
Ethier went through an entire workout -- chasing fly balls, stopping to plant and throw, running the bases, sliding and batting -- and said the leg feels better "by far" than it has since Sept. 13, the last time he started.
"I want to figure out how I can contribute more," Ethier said. "I feel I can do well playing center field. It's definitely gotten better from last week at this point. I kept pounding on it and it didn't get worse. Everyone was happy yesterday and today. It responded well today and we have to see how it responds tomorrow."
Against an all right-handed Cardinals rotation, the Dodgers feel they need Ethier's left-handed bat in this series more than against Atlanta. He has a .292 lifetime average and a .470 slugging percentage against St. Louis. If Ethier doesn't start, Skip Schumaker will, as he did against Atlanta, hitting .231 in the NL Division Series.
Then there's Ramirez. He wasn't healthy enough to play against the Cardinals in either the three-game May series at Dodger Stadium or the four-game August series in St. Louis. Mattingly wanted to be sure that didn't happen again.
So when the Dodgers worked out on Wednesday, he was the only player not on the field. He was bubble wrapped and kept indoors, as he pretty much was throughout September, when Mattingly rarely played him in back-to-back games to be sure he'd be healthy to play every October game.
"I think getting those days off helped me a lot to be feeling as good as I do now," Ramirez said after he worked out with the club Thursday. "Once Donnie found out that I don't lose my timing at the plate, even when I don't play two or three games, he realized he can do this and it keeps my body fresh. I definitely think that Donnie and the trainers have protected me and helped me."
Ricky Nolasco, Ramirez's teammate in Miami and Los Angeles, said he's not surprised that Ramirez has returned to being one of the most dynamic players in the game since the 2012 trade to the Dodgers.
"He's just happy, you know?" said Nolasco. "Obviously, the change in scenery was huge for him. When Hanley's smiling and playing hard, he's been hitting like we know he can."
Ramirez said there is nothing about the city of Los Angeles and the Dodgers that isn't a great fit for him.
"My teammates, the manager, the front office -- they all give me so much confidence and they keep my mind loose," said Ramirez. "They just want me to go out and play the game the way I always used to play -- laughing, dancing in the dugout, that's the way I am. And they show me a lot of support.
"For me, that affects me mentally. When I'm happy mentally, I play better physically. I'm able to play, even if I don't feel 100 percent. That's just the way I am."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.