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As Andre Ethier turns: the knee, the future and all that uncertainty

August 28, 2011 |  2:58 pm


So you’re wondering what to make of Andre Ethier’s latest brouhaha, his revealing to columnist T.J. Simers in Sunday’s Times that he is playing with a bad knee that will require off-season surgery.

Get in line. The Dodgers would be the ones in front.

"It's only going to get worse from this point," Ethier told Simers. "I've dealt with it all season long, but as the season goes on my body wears down. That's just the way it is. I keep getting put in the lineup, so what am I supposed to do?"

Ah, yes, what to do? For Ethier, the Dodgers, Ned Colletti and Don Mattingly.

You will be absolutely stunned to know that by Sunday afternoon, a certain disconnect had developed between what Ethier told Simers and what he said before the game. This came after he met with Colletti and Mattingly in the manager’s office, and then was quickly ushered into the training room by team doctor Neal ElAttrache for another examination.

Ethier, who was not in Sunday’s lineup, said he did want to keep playing.

"I was assuming I would play today until they said no," Ethier said. "It was a long game [Saturday]. I’m going to keep going. There’s no reason for me to stop right now."

Other than, of course, risking further injury. Which on Sunday, there was not?

"That’s what they tell me," he said. "That’s what I believe. I think it’s only gotten worse because of the wear and tear over time, which is going to happen. You just keep going and it’s my decision to keep going."

Confused? At no point did Ethier deny anything Simers wrote, and the first time he was approached by reporters Sunday he advised them to simply read the column.

Mattingly rightly felt his personal character had been challenged by the implication Ethier’s knee injury was severe enough that he shouldn’t be playing, yet was put in the lineup every day anyway.

"I got kind of blindsided by that," Mattingly said. "To me, the way I read it is, Dre’s been telling us he can’t play and we just said, 'You’re playing anyway.' That definitely isn’t the case.

"For me, that takes a shot at my integrity. ... I would never do that. I would rather lose my job that put a guy out there who might hurt himself."

So what is going on with Ethier?

It’s all theories, but this being Ethier, they’re interesting theories.

1. He wants out of here.

This is an extremely popular theory for a multitude of reasons: Ethier was unhappy in the spring that he  didn’t receive a long-term contract like right-hander Chad Billingsley, the unsettled ownership situation is not conducive to someone interested in signing a long-term contract and wants to win, it’s not exactly thrilling to play in a stadium that is half empty and his Arizona State buddy, Dustin Pedroia, plays for the Boston Red Sox.

"I definitely want to be here," Ethier said Sunday.

I can't honestly tell you whether this is true, and I remain plenty suspicious, but what else is he going to say? He’s in the last year of a two-year contract, getting paid $9.25 million this season and has one more year of arbitration left before he can hit free agency.

Colletti also said the team wants Ethier back and that hopefully "we can keep him here for awhile."

Since the All-Star break Ethier is hitting .224 with a .284 slugging percentage. That can’t exactly be enhancing is contract leverage, particularly for someone headed for off-season knee surgery.

2. Because he’s struggling, he just needs an excuse.

Last year it was the broken pinky he could never fully recover from. Not to dismiss the importance of the pinky, but I’m pretty sure Albert Pujols has bounced back OK this year from a fractured wrist.

Ethier is an intense, hard-working, highly competitive athlete who looks for every possible mental edge to succeed. When it doesn’t happen, could he look for explanations beyond simple poor results?

3. It’s just Ethier being Ethier and it will all blow over.

Yeah, maybe, but don’t think the Dodgers are not highly frustrated with all this. With Ethier, things are seldom simple.

Whether he’s complaining about the lack of a long-term contract offer, giving a photographer the bird or saying the club wants him to buck up and deal with pain, dealing with Ethier can require unique patience.

When he’s hitting as he did to start the 2010 season, not the biggest of concerns. When his next contract is going to be big, even if only for one year, the concern grows, or at least the annoyance.

"It’s very frustrating," Ethier said.

For now, it appears Ethier will soldier on of his own volition. He said the knee cracks and crunches when he walks.

Mattingly said he checks daily with the training staff, yet he had no knowledge Ethier’s knee had been injected. And Ethier said it happened once a week three times, just ending two weeks ago.

Something is not right. Not enough, though, for a team seriously lacking offense to just wash their hands of him. The Dodgers will again try to figure it out, and they’re at the front of the line.


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Photo: Andre Ethier during a game earlier this season at Dodger Stadium. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times