It wasn’t an 0-for-2 performance by Andre Ethier Wednesday at Rancho Cucamonga’s Epicenter that was the biggest Dodger news of the day. It was his pre-game assertion that he felt he could have rejoined his Los Angeles teammates prior to the All-Star Break after a left oblique injury suffered in the first inning of a 3-0 loss to San Francisco on June 27 kept him sidelined for the final 11 games before the break.
“Yeah, I feel like I’m a 100 percent right now,” Ethier said before Wednesday’s 7-0 Quakes’ loss to the Inland Empire 66ers. “I thought I could probably go there in Arizona. That’s what I was trying to get them to do, to let me play in Arizona and let me enjoy my All-Star Break, but to no success. They decided to let me get the extra rest.”
And while his teammates were venturing back into Southern California for the post-All Star slate that begins against San Diego Friday night at Dodger Stadium, Ethier was at the club’s High Class-A home in Rancho Cucamonga to mark his first California League action since he was a member of the 2004 Modesto A’s team that went on to win the league championship.
He spoke highly of his ’04 Cal League experience and understood the necessity of his return this week – he’ll also play seven innings Thursday – even if it was against his own wishes.
“I kept telling Donnie and Sue and even Ned a little bit [that] I wanted to get back out there and get going for two or three days, and they kind of all of a sudden snapped it on me and said, ‘you’re going on the DL.’ No sense of arguing. I’ll take it and just do my hard work out there and figure out a way to make the most of it and make the best and get back a little bit stronger and more refreshed than I would have been if I kept going out there,” Ethier said.
Batting .291 with 10 homeruns and 55 RBI at the time of his injury and one month removed from having inked a five-year, $85-million extension with the Dodgers, Ethier’s focus can once again return to the second half pennant push that continues Friday with Los Angeles leading San Francisco by a half a game and Arizona by four games. The Dodgers were seven and a half games up on the Giants after play on May 27.
“It’s good news,” Ethier said of the team’s first place standing. “It’s a little disappointing top see the distance we had during the first half, but there’s not too many teams that can just run away with it over the course of a long season like this. There’s something to be said to still be in first place after all the bumps and bruises that we’ve had. There are some good teams in our division, and we’ve played some good teams and kept finding a way with whoever we threw out there to keep getting wins and stay far enough ahead to give us a chance here in the second half…[when we] get our full squad back. New season, new time and go out there and test it with everyone.”
And test it, he shall. Considering he asserted that he was at 100 percent, there shouldn’t be any hindrances that would keep him from making major league plays when he takes rightfield for the Dodgers Friday night against the Padres.
“There’s no concerns,” Ethier said about his oblique. “We’re moving forward. I was ready to go in Arizona, but they wanted to give me a couple extra days rest. I didn’t agree with it too much, but I understand what the reason is. We want to get everyone healthy and make sure we have everyone healthy for the second half. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to keep making this thing the best it can be, and go out there and win games, which is the most important.”
Ethier struck out swinging in the first inning and grounded out to short in the fourth – both came on full counts – against highly touted lefthanded Angels pitching prospect Nick Maronde, who worked five scoreless innings to pick up his first win of the season.
Off the field, it was about lightheartedly chirping Matt Kemp about the slugger’s choice for the traditional post-game spread when he rehabbed in Rancho Cucamonga one week ago. Whereas Kemp bought the clubhouse P.F. Changs, Ethier hired the Dodgers’ sushi chef to prepare food before the game and bought steaks for the Rancho Cucamonga clubhouse following the loss.
“I heard he had P.F. Changs,” Ethier said. “I’m like. ‘What is that?’ You can go down the road and get PF Changs here if you want.
“Don’t get me wrong. I love it. I love PF Changs. I’ll go there. But these guys want to see something big league and want to see something LA. Kemp’s ‘Mr. L.A.’ They wanted to see something like that. So I’m kind of disappointed in what he brought in. I’ll let him know.”
Among those who weren’t disappointed – a list that includes the Quakes roster – would be the Rancho Cucamonga front office staff. A week after Kemp, Mark Ellis and Javy Guerra rehabbed at the Epicenter during a sold-out Independence Day celebration, Ethier’s appearance spurred “thousands” of additional ticket sales, according to team president Brent Miles.
“Our average Wednesday nights are typically in the low thousands, and this will be up in the 3,000 range,” Miles said.
“Typically with our partnership with the Dodgers, our job is to help develop Dodgers to become future Dodgers, and it’s kind of neat to every once in a while take care of current Dodgers superstars. We’re happy to play that role, too.”
Of course, Ethier’s on-field response was of greatest concern to Dodger fans. Judging by the way he felt both before and after Wednesday’s game, it’s safe to say that he’s ready to rejoin the big club.
“It was just good to get that rhythm back,” Ethier said. “After that first at bat, the second one I saw the ball a lot better. I was just trying to see pitches and make sure my timing was there. It felt good, and no tweaks, no aches, so all good.”