Andre Ethier ankle injury prompts Dodgers NLDS roster questions

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Will Ethier be ready to contribute in the playoffs after just one major league plate appearance in three weeks?

The left ankle of Andre Ethier still hasn't healed, and per multiple reports on Thursday manager Don Mattingly said his outfielder likely won't see action for the remainder of the regular season. While "out for the season" usually carries more weight than the four and now three games Ethier will actually miss, his injury throws a bit of a wrench into the Dodgers' plans for the postseason.

The good news for Ethier is that he resumed workouts on Thursday, and can basically do everything but run, per Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:

Ethier is able to hit, catch balls in the outfield and throw. Manager Don Mattingly said the club will wait until next week to test Ethier on the bases, and determining his role, if any, in the first round of the playoffs might not be made until the last minute.

Ethier won't be cleared until he can run the bases, something he was unable to do sufficiently on Tuesday, per Dylan Hernandez of the LA Times:

Mattingly said the Dodgers will wait as long as possible to have Ethier test his leg on the basepaths. That could be after the Dodgers’ regular-season finale Sunday.

In the meantime, the Dodgers are planning to set up simulated games for Ethier over the next few days. Mattingly hopes that will be enough to keep Ethier sharp at the plate.

"We’re going to figure out a way to get him some ABs and stuff like that," Mattingly said.

Perhaps a role could be carved for Ethier in the NLDS even if he can't run the bases, per Tony Jackson at Dodger Scribe:

But after saying earlier this week that Ethier will need to be able to run the bases in order to be on the playoff roster, Mattingly seemed less committal on that subject today when asked if the team might carry Ethier strictly as a pinch hitter.

"I don’t want to get into a lot of different scenarios (now)," Mattingly said. "I just think that is something we really need to discuss."

The Dodgers will begin the NLDS on Thursday, Oct. 3, and will do so almost certainly on the road either against the Braves or Cardinals*.

*There is actually a scenario in which the Dodgers could host the Pirates, but it would require weekend sweeps by Pittsburgh in Cincinnati, the Cubs in St. Louis and the Dodgers at home against the Rockies, followed by the Pirates beating the Cardinals in a one-game playoff for the NL Central on Monday. But that doesn't seem too plausible.

The three off days before the playoffs begin give Ethier time to heal, but will it be enough to be game-ready? Ethier lasted started on Sept. 13 and has one plate appearance since. Oct. 3 will mark 20 days since his last full game, but will nearly a week's worth of at-bats in simulated games be enough?

Matt Kemp took that route in his rehab in September, but was in Arizona for nearly two weeks and got what both he and Mattingly estimated to be hundreds of simulated at-bats. Kemp is hitting .355/.412/.548 in 10 games since his activation from the disabled list.

The bottom line is that if Ethier is healthy he will be on the NLDS roster. But for a moment, let's assume he is not for purposes of constructing a roster without him.

Here are the roster locks for the NLDS:

The final bullpen spot is a battle between Carlos Marmol, Brandon League, Chris Capuano and Edinson Volquez.

That leaves two spots for Jerry Hairston Jr., Scott Van Slyke and Dee Gordon.

Jerry Hairston Jr.

To say Hairston is struggling is an understatement, as the 37-year-old is hitless in his last 19 at-bats, he is 2-for-29 in September and 3-for-45 in his last 23 games, with no walks. Hairston is hitting .211/.265/.275 in 226 plate appearances on the season, including just .143/.189/.179 since the All-Star break.

With the addition of Michael Young, Hairston is a bit redundant though his experience in the outfield gives him additional flexibility. Judging by what Mattingly said in Arizona on Sept. 19 (when Hairston's slump was 3-for-32), Hairston has an ally in his skipper.

"He's a guy who has a lot of experience against a lot of different style of pitchers. He's not going to walk up there and not know about the situation," Mattingly said. "As far as a pinch hitter, he's pretty high on our radar for big at-bats late in the game."

To further complicate matters Hairston has back spasms, per Gurnick.

Scott Van Slyke

Van Slyke, like Hairston, gives the Dodgers someone who can play first base and the corner outfield spots, though unlike Hairston Van Slyke can't play third base. But Van Slyke gives the Dodgers a true power option off the bench, something they need with or without Ethier.

Van Slyke shuttled back and forth between Triple-A Albuquerque and the Dodgers this season, and has hit .242/.338/.476 with seven home runs and eight doubles in 145 plate appearances, including .242/.351/.435 with three home runs against left-handed pitchers. Van Slyke has just one home run in his last 85 major league plate appearances, dating back to June 6, but despite the lack of power during that span has shown the ability to reach base, hitting .232/.353/.319 during that span, in sporadic duty.

Dee Gordon

Gordon is the true wild card for the division-winning Dodgers, as he gives the Dodgers an added weapon to potentially use late in games. In stints in August and September with the big club Gordon is hitting .385 (10-for-26) with a .429 on-base percentage, but he likely wouldn't be added because of his bat. Or his glove, as he has seven errors in 22 starts at shortstop.

The Dodgers would want Gordon for his legs, as their Billy Hamilton light. Gordon is 4-for-4 in stolen base attempts in September and has been successful in 10 of 12 steal attempts on the season. In Albuquerque, Gordon stole 49 bases in 60 tried. His role, if added, would be as a late-inning pinch runner.

It will be interesting to see what the Dodgers decide, with or without Ethier. My guess — and it's just a guess — is that Gordon will make the NLDS roster over Hairston and that if Ethier is still hurt then Van Slyke will get the nod.

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