Tuesday, August 30, 2011 Updated: August 31, 9:38 AM ET
Andre Ethier enjoys grand turnaround
By Tony Jackson ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- Unless your last name is Ethier, Mattingly or Colletti, you will never know exactly what was said in that tiny office on Sunday morning.
In the aftermath of that meeting, which essentially was the adult version of someone being called to the principal's office, we have gleaned dribs and drabs. We know that the reason Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and general manager Ned Colletti wanted to meet privately with Andre Ethier, the team's right fielder, was those comments he made in a Los Angeles Times column implying that he was being pressured into playing hurt.
Andre Ethier watched his grand slam sail over the right field wall, capping a frenetic two days at the plate for the maligned outfielder.
So far, though, that is pretty much it, and we probably shouldn't hold our breath in eager anticipation of finding out more.
Whatever the message Mattingly and Colletti delivered, though, they probably should have recorded it, transcribed it, maybe even mass-produced and mass-marketed it. Because Ethier -- the on-field version of him, anyway -- has been a wholly different player since his talk.
Despite a sore right knee that provided the impetus for Ethier's latest drama, he continued to rake on Tuesday night, including his third career grand slam in the Dodgers' 8-5 victory over the San Diego Padres before 36,589 at Dodger Stadium. The win moved the Dodgers to within six games of .500 (64-70) for the first time since June 13 and into third place alone in the National League West.
After receiving his lecture, having his knee examined by the team doctor and then delivering something akin to a mea culpa, Ethier sat out Sunday's game, which ended with him in the on-deck circle waiting to pinch hit.
In two subsequent games, he is 6-for-8 with a double, the aforementioned salami, three runs scored and five RBIs. This is the same Ethier, remember, who through Saturday was hitting .192 in August with zero homers and three RBIs, allegedly because of his chronically balky right knee, which probably will require surgery as soon as the season is over.
Off the field, Ethier remains as moody and cantankerous as ever. But then, the Dodgers aren't paying him $9.25 million this year to be a nice guy.
"Not talking about my knee," he said. "We played a good game, a lot of guys had good at-bats, good job."
And then, he smiled broadly, in a way that suggested we could have asked him a hundred different questions and never gotten an answer different from that one. So when it comes to his knee -- and anything else having to do with Ethier -- we are left once again to speculate.
His performance against the Padres the past two evenings isn't to suggest Ethier's knee has been miraculously cured. Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, who was seated in the stands near the field, actually tweeted during the game that Ethier didn't appear to be moving well. But his bat certainly appears to be feeling better.
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And, you know, you don't have to move well when you hit the ball over the wall.
"Sometimes [a day off] is enough," Dodgers hitting coach Dave Hansen said. "Sometimes, it's not only physical, but it's also a chance to regroup and refocus. And he has been really focused the past couple of days. He really looks great."
The grand slam came on a first-pitch fastball -- the first pitch thrown, in fact, by Padres reliever Anthony Bass, who had come on in the bottom of the second to relieve starter Tim Stauffer, who was wild in a way he never had been in his six major league seasons. He had issued a career-worst seven walks, six of them in that second inning and three of them with the bases loaded, giving the Dodgers a 4-0 lead before Ethier even stepped in against Bass.
Ethier actually had led off that inning with a hard single up the middle. He would deliver another single in the fourth, giving him his second consecutive three-hit game, which is two more three-hit games than he had all month before that.
Mattingly stopped short of saying the day off was the impetus for Ethier's surge. That, after all, would have been tantamount to Mattingly taking credit for it.
"I don't know," he said. "He has gotten days [off] before. He is just swinging the bat good. It's hard to explain, really, why guys get hot and how they cool off. You catch a little groove, you get a little confidence, and next thing you know, you're swinging the bat well."
Chalk it up to a knee that had a day off from the pounding. Chalk it up to an emotional player with a tendency to beat himself up, along with the occasional bat rack, getting a day to rest his mind. Chalk it up to an attitude adjustment in his manager's office.
Or better yet, don't chalk it up to anything. Just enjoy it, for as long as it lasts.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.