The Dodgers outfielder, whose recovery from a sore left ankle has stalled, returned to
Los Angeles on Wednesday and underwent an MRI and CAT scan, which showed the area of his injury had improved but not healed, the Dodgers said.
In other words, Ethier's condition is better, but he's not fully recovered -- and he won't be cleared to play until he can run the bases without pain.
"Five days ago I was wearing a boot in Arizona. Yesterday I was shagging balls in the outfield. So maybe I wake up tomorrow and it feels good," Ethier said after the
Dodgers' 6-4 loss to the Giants on Wednesday.
Ethier's setback apparently occurred at a pregame workout on Tuesday when he tried to run the bases and felt discomfort, scratching a plan to return to the starting lineup.
"Does it worry me?" Mattingly said. "Yeah, I'm a little worried about him just because it didn't look very good yesterday and he wasn’t running very hard when it happened. I like to be optimistic. Hopefully, he’s just a couple of days away."
Ethier hasn't started since Sept. 13 when he aggravated a previous ankle injury rounding first base on a double against the Giants.
The Dodgers have just four games remaining in their regular season after Wednesday, limiting the number of at-bats Ethier would have if he recovers in time for the National League playoffs, which begin next week.
If Ethier can't get at least several plate appearances before then, the Dodgers would have to consider leaving him off their 25-man roster for the first round.
"We'll cross that bridge when we get there," Mattingly said. "We haven't sat down and talked about rosters. It's tough to think you wouldn't play healthy. You don't really want to play short.
"The main thing now is to find out if he's going to be able to go or not. We may get enough information that it’s not even a question one way or the other."
Ethier had been among the Dodgers' more reliable players, hitting .318 in August and .400 in his first three games this month before going into a 2-for-20 slump. Perhaps more important, he played well in center field as a replacement for
Matt Kemp and after the arrival of rookie
Mattingly's dilemma this postseason has always been how to keep four outfielders – Kemp, Ethier, Puig and left fielder
Carl Crawford – content when one of them must sit. He avoided a touchy situation when Kemp was out on three separate occasions, and now that Kemp is recovered from a sore hamstring, Ethier is down for an indefinite period.
In fact, the four players have been healthy for only two games this season, July 5 and 21. Both times, Kemp was sidelined by injuries.
"It keeps getting worked out for me," Mattingly said. "Hopefully I have that problem. I'd like to have that problem to deal with."
The Dodgers won't know for sure until they find out more information. The distressing part was that Ethier was close to returning until his workout fell flat.
"He improved to a point because he was able to shag fly balls and do all that," Mattingly said. "When he went to run and turn the bases, it was right there again. I think that part didn’t go very well. That’s the part that put a stop to everything we were planning yesterday."
Ethier seemed to get testy when reporters asked him about not starting on Tuesday, and Mattingly confirmed the player’s frustration at not improving. It's understandable, given the few games that are left before the playoffs.
"He doesn't seem great," Mattingly said. "Yesterday he was a little disappointed because he said he was walking around on the off-day and felt perfectly fine. He didn’t even think about it. He was running in the outfield shagging balls and he looked really good, maybe just a little bit of caution in his step. And then the turn, I think that disappointed him."
At this point, the Dodgers are hoping there's not more disappointment ahead.