Ethier, who has been battling an injured left ankle for the past month, started in center field and bat seventh. He has not played in the outfield since Sept. 13 and was only available for pinch-hitting duty in the NL Division Series against the Atlanta Braves.
"My teammates were coming up to me and saying, 'We're in a position where we want you in there playing,' so it was one where I'd like to have a little bit more time to play at this point under my belt, but you just go out there, do the best you can and don't let these guys down," Ethier said.
After Ethier went through workouts in the outfield this week, the team felt comfortable enough to start him after initially planning to bring him back later in the series. He recovered from a hard workout Thursday and went through another workout Friday morning before he was included in the lineup.
"It feels like at least he's back today and we don't know how he responds after a game of major-league baseball, not just a workout," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "Worst-case scenario is it would be back to a pinch hitter possibly tomorrow. Best-case scenario is he'll be able to bounce back and he'll be just fine."
Ethier was replaced in center field for the NLDS by Skip Schumaker, who batted .231 in 13 at-bats. Ethier went 0-for-3 as a pinch hitter.
"Whatever role they need, I want to figure out how I can contribute more," Ethier said Thursday. "Pinch hitting is obviously a big role, and you can make a big impact, coming off the bench and getting a big hit. But I feel like I can do well on defense, too, playing center field. I felt like I did that well all year. And that's probably the most frustrating part."
The Dodgers benefited by winning the NLDS over the Braves in four games, ace Kershaw pitching the clincher on short rest, because several of their position players are dealing with nagging injuries. Ethier, Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez all missed games in late September.
Information from ESPN.com's Jayson Stark was used in this report.