|ESPN.com: Baseball||[Print without images]|
LOS ANGELES -- In an effort to minimize the amount of time the team is without the services of right fielder Andre Ethier, the Dodgers medical staff has replaced the original splint on the little finger of Ethier's right hand with a more pliable one that allows him some freedom of movement in the first knuckle, where Ethier has a small fracture.
More importantly, it allows Ethier to swing a bat with something close to his normal swing.
"He is hitting off a tee," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "We'll just keep our fingers crossed, and he'll keep doing whatever he can do. We'll see where we are two weeks from now."
Ethier, who despite having missed seven games through Friday because of the injury still entered Saturday leading the National League in hitting (.392) and RBIs (38), will be eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on May 30 at Colorado. After he broke his finger when it slipped off the end of his bat and then onto the underside of his bat as he took a swing in the indoor batting cage on May 15 at San Diego, it initially seemed like a long shot that he could be back in such a short time.
Torre said before Saturday's game with Detroit that he has seen a more relaxed Manny Ramirez this season, which could help explain why the Dodgers left fielder entered the day hitting .347 with a .463 on-base percentage.
"Manny has been so beaten up over the last year," Torre said. "I think he put a lot of pressure on himself last year, and it wasn't as much fun for him as it had been before. This year, he is back to being that player."
Outfielder Xavier Paul was in the starting lineup for the fourth time in five games since being recalled from Triple-A Albuquerque to take Ethier's roster spot. In the first three of those games, he hit second behind Russell Martin and went 3 for 10 with a double and an RBI, and he was hitting a solid .282 in his two big league stints this season.
Although Paul almost certainly will go back down when Ethier is ready, he has certainly left an impression on Torre.
"X knows when Ethier comes back, unless something extraordinary happens, he will be the one," Torre said. "But he is on a big league team, batting second and playing on a regular basis. ... To me, he has basestealing ability, and his hands are very quick. I think he can hit home runs. He is deadly [on the] inside [pitch] as far as quickness. He has trouble with offspeed pitches, but so does everybody else who likes to hit a fastball."
Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson, who lives in Thousand Oaks, attended Saturday's game. He posed for photos on the field during batting practice with Torre and Tigers manager Jim Leyland. The three of them have combined to win eight World Series as managers.Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.