Ethier's, Ely's showings microcosm of season

Ethier's, Ely's showings microcosm of season

PHOENIX -- From the Dodgers' Opening Day roster, seven players have left the organization and only one starter from April 5 was in the lineup Saturday night in a 5-2 loss to the D-backs.

That would be Andre Ethier, whose early flirtation with a Triple Crown was derailed when he broke his right pinky finger in May, and nothing was ever the same. Ethier went 0-for-3 with a walk and a run-scoring groundout Saturday night, his batting average down to .287.

Now, Ethier concedes the finger didn't feel 100 percent until "two or three weeks ago." Then there was the right knee he hyperextended in Spring Training and the left ankle he turned during the first series of the season in Pittsburgh, which then put added stress on the patella tendinitis in the knee.

"It definitely affects the rest of the team if I'm not at my best," Ethier said. "It affects the guys around me."

No offseason surgery is scheduled and doctors feel with rest he'll be good as new, which probably will put him somewhere between the .287 he's hitting now and the .392 he was hitting when he broke that finger taking batting practice.

"People say my average went down after I got hurt -- yeah, it went down, I was hitting .390," Ethier said. "Right now, I'm at my career average. People want excuses, I'm not making excuses. You've got to fight through adversity, figure it out and get it done. But it's frustrating to go through knowing you're not 100 percent."

Ethier has a .496 slugging percentage and a .359 on-base percentage, virtually the same as his final numbers (.508/.361) last year. He has 23 homers and 79 RBIs in 132 games played. Project that to the 160 games he played last year, and he'd hit 28 homers with 96 RBIs had he stayed on the field as much as last year, when he went 31/106.

When the postmortems are written on what went wrong for the Dodgers this year, as unproductive as the offense turned out to be, another place to focus is the starting pitching -- particularly the fifth starter spot, which is what came up Saturday night when John Ely was outpitched by fellow rookie Daniel Hudson.

Both came to the National League West via trades with the Chicago White Sox -- Ely in the Juan Pierre deal, Hudson in the Edwin Jackson trade. Hudson took a one-hitter into the ninth inning, when the Dodgers pushed across a second run before bowing to the D-backs' bullpen.

"With the stuff he threw out there tonight, looks like they got a good one there," said manager Joe Torre.

Meanwhile, Ely was charged with four runs in 5 1/3 innings with six walks -- or as many as he made in his first six starts combined. He has 11 walks in his past two starts. He's lost eight of his past nine decisions and is 4-9 on the season with a 5.10 ERA.

Torre said Ely is not consistently going after hitters and falling behind in the count, the result of a lack of confidence. Ely said he's been unable to finish off batters even when he gets ahead in the count.

Either way, he doesn't have the fastball of Hudson, so he doesn't get away with mistake pitches over the plate. The fatal one in this game was a three-run homer by rookie Cole Gillespie in the sixth inning that just eluded the leap of left fielder Reed Johnson after Ely intentionally walked Brandon Allen.

"Obviously you'd like to make them feel like it's a bad decision," Gillespie said. "A little more incentive I guess to come through in that situation. You always want to come through with guys in scoring position, but when they intentionally walk the guy in front of you, you kind of like to make it backfire on them."

A year ago, the Dodgers went 30-16 in games started by anyone other than their top four starters -- Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda or Randy Wolf. This year, in games started by anyone other than their top four starters - Kershaw, Billingsley, Kuroda and Vicente Padilla -- the Dodgers are 21-27.

That's a turnaround of 10 games in the standings, which is a big reason the Dodgers must run the table and win their final seven games just to finish with a winning record this year.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.