With their original center fielder out for the year — and the “Matt Kemp is made of glass” bashing having already commenced — the Dodgers need understudy Andre Ethier to play now more than ever. And he will play. Ethier will play because he has to play.
Ethier will play because Los Angeles must roll the dice to win in this particular postseason, and because they have everything to lose by employing the safe hand. He'll play because the National League Division Series makes for a big moment, the biggest of his career, and because baseball players rise to the occasion for moments such as these. For moments exactly like these.
Ethier will play because the Dodgers have experience with walking-wounded left-handed outfielder types, who limp off the bench when October beckons. Kirk Someone-or-Other, if memory serves. (And it serves because we've got 1988 up the butt in this town lately.)
Ethier will play because he's capable of playing; just not in center field, not at the NLDS outset, and maybe not at all. But he'll play. Pinch hitting is playing. And if he walk, he can pinch hit. And if Ethier can pinch hit, he can play. And he's going to play. Period.
Forget the crap about how if Ethier hits safely, then you have to pinch run, and you burn two players. Because, first of all, so what if you have to burn two players? If you absolutely have to burn two players, you burn two players.
Perhaps you run with Nick Punto, who's not much of a hitter, or you run a pitcher, who may or may not be much of a hitter. You do what you have to in the playoffs. You take your best shot when the opportunity arises. And Ethier pinch hitting with the game on the line — with the season on the line — may be that best shot.
If it's Craig Kimbrel pitching for a save, and Ethier can get you even, you take that shot, and cross the pinch running bridge when you get to it. If Ethier doesn't walkoff, that is.
If the Braves are starting a left-hander — and they have two in Mike Minor and Paul Maholm — then perhaps Don Mattingly goes with Scott Van Slyke in right field, with Yasiel Puig moving over to center. It may be frightening, but possible just the same, and in that scenario, then Skip Schumaker runs for Ethier should he reach base. You'd want Skip in the game late to replace Van Slyke on defense anyway.
You might also want to forget this business about Ethier needing to run the bases by tomorrow or Wednesday or even by Thursday, when the NLDS opens in Atlanta. He may not need to run them at all, and he most certainly doesn't need a test run days before he might be used to pinch hit.
Games 3 and 4 (if necessary) are scheduled for Sunday and Monday, with a potential Game 5 to be played Wednesday, October 9. Ethier can do a lot of healing in six to nine days, and L.A. can afford to let him do so.
A seven-game National League Championship Series would be played between Friday, October 11 and Saturday, October 19, and by that time, with proper Dodger decision making, Ethier may well be ready to play some center field.
A case can be made for resting Ethier in the first round with the hope of getting to the second. A bad case. If the Dodgers need him to pinch hit in the first round, he'll be ready to do so. He might need a pinch runner and he might not. With the season on the line, he'll make it to first base, OK? He'll run the 90 feet.
If Los Angeles doesn't need Ethier to pinch hit in the NLDS, that's either good news because they had comfortable leads or bad news because they weren't close enough for him to make a difference. Either way, he sits and heals. But you have to have him on the roster. You have to take that shot. Ethier's worth it, and the Dodgers will take that shot. He'll be on the NLDS roster.
Here's my prediction as to how the full roster will shake out. NLDS only.
Starting pitchers: Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ricky Nolasco.
Bullpen: Kenley Jansen, Brian Wilson, Chris Withrow, J.P. Howell, Paco Rodriguez, Chris Capuano, Ronald Belisario.
Starting eight: Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Juan Uribe, A.J. Ellis, Mark Ellis, Skip Schumaker.
Bench: Andre Ethier, Michael Young, Nick Punto, Tim Federowicz, Scott Van Slyke, Jerry Hairston, Jr.