LOS ANGELES -- While Dodgers rookie Joc Pederson is the youngest opening day center fielder for the team in nearly five decades, the flip side of that milestone is the end of an era of sorts. Andre Ethier starts 2015 on the Dodgers bench, snapping a streak of eight consecutive opening day starts.
Ethier started on opening day every year from 2007-2014, starting in left field in 2008, right field for six seasons (2007, 2009-2013), then in center field in Australia in 2014. His six opening day starts in right field are the most by a Los Angeles Dodger, and dating back to 1914 he trails only Carl Furillo, with 10 starts.
But now he is relegated to a bench role, with the three outfield positions spoken for at the moment.
"I want to be cognizant of the way Andre feels. It's like that for every player," manager Don Mattingly said. "You try to get everyone involved as far as getting at-bats. You don't want anyone to get stale. We'll do the best he can to keep him fresh."
Ethier has three years and a guaranteed $56 million remaining on his contract, but for now will be relegated to pinch-hitting duty plus the occasional fill-in start at any of the three outfield positions. Mattingly said he spoke with Ethier on Saturday about his role, similar to the club's meeting with Ethier in February when he reported to camp, when he expressed his desire to play every day.
"We don't expect Andre to be happy and say 'Do whatever you want to do,' which is fine. But the main thing is that he knows up front where we are right now," Mattingly said. "I can't say if it was me as a player I would sit here and be happy about it. I don't expect him to be, and he can handle it any way he wants. We had conversations before spring training, and we'll continue to talk."
Mattingly said with four off days in April and the club scheduled to face a number of right-handed hitters, that he didn't expect too many days off for Pederson. But when Pederson does need a day off, the club would prefer to keep Yasiel Puig in right field - "I would like to stay away from moving Yasiel around," Mattingly said - and instead use either Scott Van Slyke or Ethier in center.
"We're going to do the best we can for everybody," Mattingly said.