Dodgers look to quiet Ethier for leadership

Posted Feb. 21, 2011, at 9:08 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 21, 2011, at 9:56 p.m.

GLENDALE, Ariz.  — Andre Ethier wants to be a leader for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He wants to be the kind of player who sets a good example and can bring a clubhouse together.

He’s just not sure how to go about it.

“He can be that guy,” said new Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, who has already had conversations with the quiet, unassuming right fielder along those lines.

“He had confusion from the standpoint of, ‘I don’t know how to do it.’ Those were his exact words. I explained he doesn’t have to do anything but play the game hard. Every day,” Mattingly added. “He works harder than anybody else. I just need him to do that every day. If he’ll do that, he doesn’t have to say a word.”

Mattingly, a Yankees captain and then coach, mentioned Derek Jeter in New York as an example.

“You see this good-looking guy and you hear about Miss America and everybody else, and you think he’s not tough,” Mattingly said Monday. “This is the toughest guy I’ve ever been around. All he does is go out and play every day.

“And when your best player … ,” then Mattingly seemed to catch himself. “I’m not going to name Andre that, but when your best players play the hardest, that’s leadership That’s what Jeet did over the years. That’s all Andre has to do.”

Trouble is, Ethier tends to “beat himself up” over perceived shortcomings, Mattingly said.

“When he gets in those modes, he feels like he’s terrible, like he can’t play,” he said. “That he sometimes doesn’t feel good about himself amazes me. I just see all that ability and how good he can be.

“I don’t care who is out on the mound. He’s capable of hitting everybody.”

Ethier calls this his “great contradiction.”

“I believe in my head I’m a really good, a great player. But I believe to achieve that, I have to work twice as hard every offseason,” he said.

For the first 34 games last year, Ethier was indeed a great player. He was batting .370 with 11 homers and 38 RBIs, making him an early front-runner for NL MVP, before he was sidelined by an odd batting-practice injury to his right pinkie.

When he returned, he never regained the same form, finishing 2010 with a .293 average, 23 home runs and 82 RBIs.

“It was an unfortunate injury. … You can always play the what ifs,” he said. “Once the season was done, I was over with it.”

But something else stuck with him.

“Our bad season was the toughest thing to think about,” Ethier said.

This year, he doubts those early numbers can be replicated.

“But consistency,” he said, “can be replicated.”

So he wants to set a strong example and take on a leadership role, albeit in his own subdued manner, on a team in need of that.

“Some relationships between players and the coaching staff were a standoff,” Ethier said, referring to last season. “The mix was off, wasn’t right.”

Ethier turns 29 in April. Could he become the face of the franchise?

“Sure, why not?” he said. “If over time, that’s what it comes to.”

After talking with Mattingly, Ethier believes consistency will be the key for him.

“It’s not the playing side that will dictate the type of player I am. It’s the way I handle the ups and downs and the adversity and communicate some of the responsibility” of leadership, he said. “You need guys like that. That’s something we’ve been lacking. The last few years, we’ve had personalities.

“We’ve lacked those sturdy-headed figures.”

Is he ready to be that guy?

“Sure, why not?” he said. “Look at the best teams, that’s what they have. That’s what we need.

“You always have key pieces, but it’s those constants that keep good teams going.”

NOTES: Ethier will hit third in the lineup, with Matt Kemp in the cleanup spot. “I’d really like to do that … all year long,” Mattingly said. As for the No. 2 spot, “That’s a question mark,” Mattingly said. But he might be leaning toward third baseman Casey Blake. “He’s a guy who hits the ball the other way. He’s always been able to do all parts. He can bunt. You can hit and run with him. … He’s a guy who will take pitches. Casey has always been a good baserunner and solid player. We’ll see. I’d like to give it a shot.” SS Rafael Furcal, though oft-injured, would bat leadoff. … Position players were due to report Monday. … Special adviser Tommy Lasorda, in uniform, arrived for his 62nd spring training with the Dodgers.

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