Ethier admits he played hurt last year

Ethier admits he played hurt last year

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- So it turns out Andre Ethier wasn't merely fatigued and distraught when he hit the wall and disappeared from the Dodgers' lineup late last season.

It turns out he was hurt.

A shoulder injury originally suffered diving for a line drive last Spring Training was aggravated on a similar play in August. Ethier, feeling the pressure of a rookie not willing to let go of his job, tried to play through the pain and slumped so badly he lost his job anyway.

At the time, Ethier offered vague explanations for a sudden and endless slump. Now he offers the rest of the story.

"What I had was inflammation of the acromioclavicular joint [where the collarbone meets the shoulder], a half-inch edema pocket [swelling], and the rotator cuff was smashed down," said Ethier.

"When the season was over, I drove home to Arizona and with my hands on the steering wheel, I realized I couldn't flex my bicep. Something was wrong and I had it checked the next week. It didn't need surgery, but I had to spend the winter rehabbing it. It's about 95 percent now and by April it will be 100 percent. My swing feels a lot more normal now.

"It affected me a lot. It messed up my mechanics. I tried to compensate, but my elbow was flying up. It caused me a lot of frustration and led to fatigue. I battled through it, but I wasn't at my best. I needed a lot of time during the winter to get it going again. I realized in September I wasn't helping the team. It was a confidence thing by then."

Ethier, who turns 25 in April, helped the team plenty for the better part of four months. The Double-A Texas League Player of the Year in 2005, he was traded to the Dodgers by Oakland for Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez in Ned Colletti's first trade as general manager. He hit .276 in his first Dodgers Spring Training and was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas to start the season.

Ethier was promoted from Triple-A on May 2 when Ricky Ledee was injured and emerged as the starting left fielder, taking over for Jose Cruz Jr., who inherited the job when Jayson Werth's wrist kept him sidelined the entire year.

Ethier was batting .346 when the series with the Rockies ended Aug. 10, the day he hit the last of his 11 home runs. He said he slugged the homer a few innings after rejamming the shoulder on another attempted diving catch and still can't believe he cleared the fence, considering the pain. Over the next seven weeks, Ethier's average fell 38 points to a year-end .308. He went 127 at-bats without a home run. He had only two RBIs after Aug. 28.

"It was an unfortunate learning experience," he said. "You learn your limits. I wanted to play. I was in such a situation as a rookie, you don't want to say you don't want to play. You bite your lip and go with whatever the manager decides. I told them what I could and couldn't do. But I was pressing to do things. Then I doubted myself."

Unfortunately, what happened at the end partially obscured Ethier's spectacular arrival to the Major Leagues. He had a 16-game hitting streak, was hitting .358 at the All-Star break, finished sixth in voting for Rookie of the Year and was named to the TOPPS Major League rookie All-Star team.

"July and August were extraordinary," he said. "I played the way I was capable of. I got hot for four months and I know I can do it again. I just have to sustain it."

This year, with Luis Gonzalez's arrival to be the left fielder, Ethier is moving over to right field.

"That was my natural position in college and three years with Oakland in the Minor Leagues," he said. "I'm excited to go back."

He also was moved into the veterans section of the Dodgertown clubhouse, wedged between fellow projected outfield starters Gonzalez and Juan Pierre.

"I can read between the lines, so to speak," said Ethier, looking at the locker arrangement. "A second-year guy between two 10-year guys. This guy [pointing at Gonzalez's locker] was playing when I was in elementary school. He's a guy I emulated my game after."

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