NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) – The first player Ned Colletti acquired in a trade after the Dodgers hired him as general manager in 2006 was Andre Ethier, a little-known outfield prospect from the Oakland Athletics.
“Our reports were that he was similar to a lot of our younger guys that were at Double-A that year — good hitter, good outfielder, athletic — somebody that would play in the big leagues in a relatively short period of time and had a lot of upside, depending on how well he learned and how well he progressed,” Colletti recalled. “We acquired him in December of ’06, he was up here in May and he never went back.”
Ethier has a 29-game hitting streak heading into a three-game series against the Mets opening Friday.
The right fielder didn’t get a chance to extend his 29-game hitting streak in a 5-1 loss to Chicago on Wednesday, as he sat out for the first time this season due to left elbow inflammation. The Dodgers hope Ethier is healthy enough to play. Ethier seemed more concerned about Los Angeles (15-17) dropping four of its last five than with the streak, which is two games shy of Willie Davis’ team record set in 1969.
“It’s fun to be a part of, but I’m not going to let this thing eat at me,” said Ethier. “I’m just trying to execute during each at-bat. And whatever that at-bat calls for — taking a walk, advancing a runner drive a guy in — I’m going to try to get it done.”
If he’s healthy enough to play, the streaking slugger will go up against Jon Niese (1-4, 4.71). Niese has allowed two earned runs in each of his last three starts but lost for the second time in that span Saturday, 2-1 to Philadelphia after pitching 6 1-3 innings.
Niese, who has never faced the Dodgers, has received three or fewer runs of support in all but one of his six starts this season.
Ethier knows larger crowds of media will be on hand for his games, tracking his at-bats as the streak remains intact.
“Like I keep saying, I’m not focusing on the streak,” Ethier said. “I mean, I don’t go home at night or wake up in the middle of the night and worry about this thing. I enjoy it and I want to go as long as I can, but it’s not a constant thought.”
The 29-year-old right fielder, who uses a black ash Louisville Slugger, is batting .387 during this stretch with three homers and 17 RBIs, and has gone hitless in only one of his first 31 games. That was on April 1 at Dodger Stadium, when he struck out and flied out twice against San Francisco’s Jonathan Sanchez and grounded out against Dan Runzler.
“Last year he started off real hot, too, and I thought he was a triple crown candidate,” said teammate Aaron Miles, who spent last season with St. Louis. “His swing is as good as it can be. He’s short to the ball and long through it. I mean, if you wanted to copy anybody in the game, he’d be probably one of the best swings you could ever copy.”
Ethier had a 16-game streak as a rookie and is trying to become the 44th major leaguer since 1900 with a hitting streak of at least 30 games during one season. His would be the eighth since 2000, following Jimmy Rollins (36), Chase Utley (35), Luis Castillo (35), Albert Pujols (30), Willy Taveras (30), Moises Alou (30) and Ryan Zimmerman (30).
Once a player gets halfway to Joe DiMaggio’s record of 56, pressure starts to increase.
“Those streaks are tough, especially when you’re closing in on 30 games,” said former Dodger teammate Reed Johnson, who hit in a career-best 20 straight in 2003 with Toronto. “For some reason, that just sounds like a big number. So once you get to 30, then you’re really doing something.”
Ethier’s streak comes while the Dodgers are in turmoil, with Major League Baseball appointing a monitor to approve every transaction of $5,000 or more while it investigates the team’s operation under Frank McCourt.
“It’s obviously great for the club and great for Andre,” Colletti said. “He’s starting to draw that national recognition that goes with the type of player he is, and I think people will take more notice of him from now on.”
Ethier mostly has shunned the limelight with self-depreciating remarks about his talent level since reaching the big leagues.
“There’s a lot of players who can perform when the lights are dim. Not everybody can perform when the lights are bright,” Colletti said. “When you do what he’s done at the crossroads of games and the crossroads of seasons, he almost looks forward to it. And you can tell — especially two years ago. You could tell he wanted it to come to him. And that’s special. There’s not a lot of guys who want that and can be successful in the midst of it. But he’s one of them who can.”
Last May, Ethier bailed out closer Jonathan Broxton with a game-ending grand slam against Milwaukee’s LaTroy Hawkins after Broxton blew a save chance in the top of the ninth. He’s becoming a constant on highlight shows.
“It’s always refreshing to see a guy who puts in all that work and does everything the right way, as far as preparing himself for a game, to get rewarded and have that kind of success,” said Johnson, now with the Cubs. “Andre just doesn’t get out of his plan or what he wants to do at the plate, no matter what the situation is.”
Ethier is making $9.25 million this year in the final season of a $15.25 million, two-year deal and is eligible for free agency after the 2012 season. Speaking ahead of opening day in March, he told The Associated Press he was uncertain of his long-term future in Los Angeles.
“This is my sixth one, and who knows? It might be my last one here with the Dodgers. You never know. A lot of signs are pointing that way, so we’ll have to see. Six years for a Dodger is a long time, in the era that we’re living in. So I’m going to cherish every moment I can, enjoy the season and try to make it my best one.”
That, he appears to be doing.
“Andre expects the best from himself all the time,” Colletti said. “Sometimes in the past, it could get the better of him from time to time. But this year I’ve seen him have very few moments like that, and I think he’s starting to figure it out.”
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