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Ethier's focuses: winning and hitting lefties

Ethier narrows his focuses

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PITTSBURGH -- Andre Ethier was right in the middle of the winning rally Saturday night, when the Dodgers clinched a postseason berth.

But he was there as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning. He wasn't right in the middle of the starting lineup that night, which provides Ethier plenty of motivation for improvement, even with the breakout season he's put together.

"I need to figure out how to hit left-handers," said Ethier, who entered play Sunday with a .197 batting average against left-handed pitchers, compared to a .306 average against right-handed pitchers.

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Dodgers at a glance
2009 record: 95-67
2008 record: 84-78
NL West champs
NL best record
NLCS matchup:
Phillies at Dodgers
Postseason tix: Buy now

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
Loney: Taking good swings
Kuo: Long road back
Thome: Back in Philly
Loney: Building resume
Bullpen: Led by Broxton
Torre: Rep precedes him
Blake: Chemistry guy
Kershaw: Game 1 nod?
Dodgers: Eyes on prize
Kemp: Path of the pros
Furcal: Back healthy
Kershaw: Like Koufax
Hudson: Keeping head up
Billingsley: Unknown role
Ethier: Slump over
Torre: Tough decisions
Kershaw: Elite comparisons
Kemp: Nearly elite
Kershaw: Path to the pros
Billingsley: Fate in balance
Ethier: Aims to improve
Torre: Back to playoffs
Kershaw: Ready to rock
Rotation: Plenty of options
Kemp: Chasing LA history
Bullpen: Dominant pair
Honeycutt: Pitching guru
Kemp: Tools to match talent
Ethier: Walk-off wonder
Billingsley: Vying for spot
Ethier/Kemp: Dynamic duo
Torre: Another pennant race
Pierre: Receives high praise
Kershaw: Beyond his years

As a result, Ethier not only has an overall batting average (.274) that's "disappointing," in his words, but his playing time has been slightly reduced because manager Joe Torre chooses to rest him against tough left-handed starters.

That doesn't mean Ethier won't be in the starting lineup in the playoffs, when the Dodgers could very well face Philadelphia lefties Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in the opening division series. After all, he has emerged as the most prolific run producer in a lineup that includes Manny Ramirez.

"Ethier still goes through valleys and he gets frustrated, like with bad calls from umpires," said manager Joe Torre. "But he has so much talent on the hitting side and he possesses defensive skills. When he's in the game, there's not a lot he can't do. He's blessed with the ability to hit."

Of the 31 home runs and 104 RBIs Ethier has this year, 25 of the home runs and 81 of the RBIs have come in 422 at-bats off right-handers. That computes to one homer every 16.88 at-bats and one RBI every 5.20 at-bats against right-handers, but one homer every 26.16 at-bats and one RBI every 6.82 at-bats against lefties.

That might seem like statistical minutiae to some fans, but it will be the stuff of arbitration briefs when Ethier's salary is determined next spring.

Ethier, who earned $3.2 million this year, will be looking to more than double his salary as he leads a group of as many as nine players (Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton, Matt Kemp, Hong-Chih Kuo, James Loney, Russell Martin, Jason Repko and George Sherrill are the others) from the club nucleus eligible for arbitration.

Ethier occasionally discusses the business side of the game, half-jokingly predicting that he'll be seeing management at the arbitration table after settling just before a hearing this year, unless the club signs him to a long-term contract, which hasn't been part of Dodgers strategy with young players under the current regime.

"It is what it is," Ethier said. "Going into this season, I knew what I had to do -- play good baseball and help the team win any way possible. The money's a side note. It's something to reflect on after the season. You can get too carried away if you allow that stuff to determine and have a bearing on how you perform during the year.

"Winning is always enough. You can't allow the pure pursuit of monetary gains to get in the way of playing the game. If you have your mind purely on chasing the dollar, you'll be miserable."

Ethier said he's exceeded some goals this year, fallen short of others.

"If there's a surprise, it's that I've been able to come out and keep going consistently," he said. "I always felt I was capable of getting better year to year. And I still have a lot of improvement to make in certain areas and I just have to go out and do it."

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

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