Ethier's Grand Slam Continues Surge

As of Saturday night, Andre Ethier couldn't hit. He was in a 6-for-52 slump (.115) with no extra base hits in 16 games, and one home run since the All-Star break. On Sunday morning, Ethier was quoted in the LA Times suggesting that his right knee was so sore, it was affecting his swing, and he couldn't generate any power. He didn't want to keep playing, but the Dodgers were forcing him to play.

By Sunday afternoon, manager Don Mattingly was saying he was "blindsided" as his credibility was questioned. Ethier backtracked on those comments, saying that it's always been his decision to keep playing. He didn't start that game as doctors re-examined his knee.

By Monday, Ethier was back in the lineup, and while team officials believed a minor cleanup knee surgery in the offseason was still likely, they didn't believe it was going to get any worse.

And in the two games since, Ethier has six hits in eight at-bats -- all of them are rockets -- including a grand slam to cap an eight-run second inning Tuesday night in the Dodgers' 8-5 win over the Padres.

Confused?

Don't expect Ethier to shed any additional light on the status of his knee, or if Sunday's day off helped, or pretty much any topic. Ethier answered each question by reporters the same way Tuesday night: "Played well. Had a lot of fun. Had some good at-bats, got some key hits, played well as a team."

When asked specifically about the knee, Ethier said, "I'm not talking about the knee tonight," and went back to his canned responses.

The last 96 hours have been strange, no doubt, leaving some to wonder if Ethier is trying to force his way out of town.

"No matter what people speculate and what people say, Andre wants to stay in L.A. for next year and the rest of his career," Nez Balelo, Ethier's agent, told the Los Angeles Times.

Ethier's first home run since July 25, a stretch of 27 games, came at the perfect time. Padres starter Tim Stauffer walked six batters in the second inning, including three with the bases loaded.

Reliever Anthony Bass entered the game, and Ethier hit a low line drive over the right field fence for his third career grand slam. Ethier singled to start the inning, and he accomplished the rare feat of getting the first two hits of the inning. He ripped another single in the fourth inning.

Ethier's always been a streaky hitter, prone to enormous hot and cold streaks. It could be that Ethier is bouncing back from a slump and about to go on another ridiculous tear.

It could be that the two-game surge is the result of extra focus at the plate after the heavy scrutiny the last few days. It could be that he's thriving off the doubters, which he's admitted to previously using to motivate himself. It could be just two games.

"He's just swinging the bat good," Mattingly said. "It's hard to explain really when guys get hot and how they cool off. They catch a groove. It's just like James (Loney). You get some confidence, and the next thing you know, you're swinging the bat well. It's hard to explain when guys get that feel back."

Loney Forces His Way Back Into Favor
James Loney went 2-for-4 with a double and a two-run homer, his ninth of the season, extending his hitting streak to eight games Monday night. The 27-year-old hit .514 (18-for-35) with five doubles, four homers and 10 RBI during the run, which began on Aug. 21.

Loney drove in a run in six consecutive games, which is a season-long streak for a Dodger. Loney (April 30-May 6) and Matt Kemp (Aug. 21-27) tied for the club lead with six-game RBI streaks in 2010.  

James Loney's white-hot walloping has upgraded his Dodger future all the way from non-existent to tenuous.

By doubling and hitting his ninth homer of the season (and third in four games) tonight in support of Clayton Kerhaw and the Dodgers, who beat the Padres 4-1, Loney extended his swashbuckling slugging streak to 18 for 35 with five doubles and four home runs in eight games: a .541 on-base percentage, 1.000 slugging percentage and 1.541 OPS.

Loney pushed his OPS for the season above .700 for the first time since he doubled in four at-bats on Opening Day. Since he began play on April 24 with his batting average at a season-low .165, Loney has basically been himself, producing an OPS virtually identical to his career .771.

Loney got a 57 percent raise last offseason, from $3.1 million, after OPSing only .723 in 2010. Loney's 2011 OPS right now is .705. The Dodgers could try to resign Loney after non-tendering him, but as was the case with Russell Martin last winter, that opens the door for any of 29 other teams to decide he's worth more than the Dodgers think he is.

Loney's surge has increased the chances that the Dodgers could stomach giving him a raise, but then again, it has also increased the potential size of that raise. Though the decision isn't getting any easier, the news is that there could be a decision to make at all.

Arizona Fall League Players Announced
The Dodgers will send nine players to this year's Arizona Fall League, eight of them to the Scottsdale River Rafters and the other, Bishop Alemany High School and Loyola Marymount University product Angelo Songco, to the Surprise Sagauros.

Newly acquired right-hander Stephen Fife, who came from the Red Sox in a three-team trade in July; right-hander Steven Ames; lefty Cole St. Clair; righty Josh Wall; catcher Gorman Erickson; infielder Jake Lemmerman; recently acquired outfielder Alex Castellanos, who came from St. Louis in last month's Rafael Furcal deal; and outfielder Kyle Russell.

All but Russell presently are with Double-A Chattanooga. Russell, the team's third-round pick in 2008, also was with the Lookouts until being promoted to Triple-A Albuquerque late last week.

There are no Dodgers minor league coaches involved in the AFL this year.

Fred Claire Sighting at Dodger Stadium
Fred Claire, the last general manager to lead the Dodgers to a World Series title made a rare appearance at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night.

"The fan base is obviously still here," Claire said. "When this organization is winning and the public is accepting of what's happening, the crowds will be here. The players realize that. Everybody involved realizes that."

Claire was careful not to offer any observations about the bankrupt Dodgers' organizational troubles.

"I have a lot of old friends here," he said. "I was with a friend and just thought I'd stop by." As reporters started to swell around him behind the batting cage, Claire excused himself. "I'm drawing too much attention," he said.

Kershaw Making Strong Bid for Cy Young
Clayton Kershaw's latest gem on Monday night was a lot like his season: The longer it goes on, the better he gets.

Kershaw retired 13 of the final 14 batters he faced -- the only hit in that time was off the glove of third baseman Aaron Miles -- as he went the distance for the fifth time this season in the Dodgers' 4-1 victory over the Padres.

Similarly, Kershaw has won nine of his last 10 starts. After winning Pitcher of the Month in July, Kershaw ended August with a 5-1 record, two complete games and a 1.55 ERA in six starts.

In the process, he probably has a slight edge over Roy Halladay in what's likely a two-pitcher race for the Cy Young. Kershaw said he's not thinking about the award.

"I'm not going to say that it's not flattering or anything like that," Kershaw said. "It's nice to be mentioned. But I have five starts left. A lot can happen. I'm not putting too much credit into it right now."

The Giants will offer Tim Lincecum for that award, but he allowed three home runs and five runs in a loss to the Cubs on Monday. The Diamondbacks will push for Ian Kennedy, who is tied with Kershaw for the league lead in wins with 17, but his ERA is still 3.03.

Kershaw leads the league in innings pitched (198 2/3) and strikeouts (212, which ties his career high), is second in ERA (2.45 to Johnny Cueto's 2.05), second in WHIP (1.02 behind Cole Hamels' 0.97), and has the lowest opposing OPS (.569).

"He's just a dominating pitcher," first baseman James Loney said. "It's one thing to make lefties look bad, coming from the left side. But he makes righties look just as bad, too. That's a credit to his stuff and the way he goes out there. He attacks the strike zone. He doesn't walk many guys. That makes it tough on other teams."

Kershaw was at 77 pitches through five innings, in part because of a 13-pitch at-bat by Kyle Blanks in the second inning. But he needed just 28 pitches for the next three innings. He started the ninth at 105, got two quick outs, gave up an infield single to Nick Hundley, and then whiffed Logan Forsythe to end the game in style.

"He was good, especially late," manager Don Mattingly said. "Early on, I was hoping to get him through six or seven (innings). Then all of a sudden, he got cruising and got everything over. That made the decision (for the ninth) easy because he was going so easy."

Kershaw finished with 118 pitches, the fifth time he has gone over 115 pitches this year. The Dodgers will use a sixth starter the next time through the rotation, which gives Kershaw (and all the other starters) an extra day of rest -- and it also lines him up to face all contenders down the stretch.

He's now lined up to make the following starts to end the year: Sept. 4 at Atlanta, Sept. 9 at San Francisco, Sept. 14 vs. Arizona, and Sept. 20 vs. San Francisco. For his final start, he could pitch Sept. 25 at San Diego on normal rest or Sept. 26 at Arizona with an extra day of rest.

NOTES, QUOTES
--RHP Hiroki Kuroda was issued one of the Dodgers' seven walks in the second inning, and it came with the bases loaded. It was his first RBI since 2008 and his third career RBI. After receiving the least run support on the staff through his first 23 starts, the Dodgers have scored seven, eight, nine and eight runs in his last four starts. Kuroda (11-14) allowed four runs in six innings Tuesday, but he got the win.

--RHP Kenley Jansen completed a "reliever no-hitter" with a hitless eighth inning Tuesday night. Jansen hasn't allowed a hit in his last nine innings, walking three, striking out 15 and throwing 115 pitches in the process. Earlier this year, Jansen went seven hitless innings. Overall, Jansen has allowed 23 hits in 40 innings (and 13 of those hits came in April), and he's struck out 64.

--CF Matt Kemp established a career high with four walks (one intentional), and he reached base in all five plate appearances. He scored a run for the seventh consecutive game. He also threw out San Diego's Jesus Guzman at home for a double play, for his ninth outfield assist this year.

--SS Dee Gordon played his third and final rehab game Tuesday night for Class A Rancho Cucamonga. He reached on a bunt single in the first inning, stole second and scored a run. Gordon finished the game with three hits, two stolen bases and three runs. He'll travel with the Dodgers after Wednesday's day game in Los Angeles, and he'll be activated Thursday before the makeup game at Pittsburgh. Since rosters expand Thursday, no corresponding roster move is needed.

--The Dodgers won for the seventh time in eight games, downing the Padres 8-5. Los Angeles pulled to within 6.0 games of the .500 mark for the first time since June 13 after a 6-4 loss dropped the team to 31-37. The Dodgers finished the game with 12 walks, their most since being issued 14 free passes in an 11-inning game on April 21, 1999 vs. Atlanta. It's the first time the Dodgers walked 12 or more times in a nine-inning game since walking 13 times on May 24, 1981 at Cincinnati in the second game of a doubleheader. Since Aug. 18, Los Angeles has gone 9-3 with an average of 6.42 runs per game (77 runs).

  --Hiroki Kuroda established a new career-long winning streak with his fourth straight win and tied a career high set last season with his 11th win. Kuroda improved to 3-0 against San Diego this season, but had his quality starts streak snapped at eight. He drew a bases-loaded walk in the second inning to drive in the third run of his career and first since Aug. 9, 2008 at San Francisco, when he delivered an RBI single off Kevin Correia.

BY THE NUMBERS: 8 -- Members of the Dodgers broadcast team, all of whom will return for the 2012 season. Hall of Famers Vin Scully and Jaime Jarrin, beginning their 63rd and 54th consecutive season, respectively, confirmed their returns last weekend, and the rest were announced Tuesday. Charley Steiner and Rick Monday return to the English radio booth. Jarrin is joined by Fernando Valenzuela and Pepe Yniguez in the Spanish radio booth. For road games outside the NL West, when Scully doesn't travel, play-by-play man Eric Collins and analyst Steve Lyons return for their fourth season together.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We'll keep the guys with the roles we've been doing. We're not gonna change anybody's role to try to see what we can do. It's really for Nate to be able to continue the season, be able to work and to be able to get out there a little bit without adding a bunch of innings ... This scenario allows us to keep getting him out in competition. He'll continue to work through his bullpens and all that, but also really put no undue wear and tear (on his arm)." -- Manager Don Mattingly, on moving RHP Nathan Eovaldi to the bullpen after his next start, in order to limit his innings.

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