Dodgers Aiming for Second Place

The Dodgers spent the last 11 days going from L.A. to Pittsburgh to Atlanta to Washington to San Francisco and back to L.A. They made up a rainout, got rained out, tried to play two games, and the second game got rained out. They won seven of 10 games, reached .500 for the first time since May, fell back under .500 on Sunday, but have a chance to finish second ahead of the Giants.

Manager Don Mattingly went out of his way to call a quick team meeting after Sunday's game, telling his players that he was proud of their effort on a difficult road trip.

"It's not over," Mattingly said. "Every day we've got to keep playing. You feel good getting to .500, that's for sure, but it still doesn't do you a lot of good. From where we've been, to get there is one thing. It's like getting to the big leagues is easy, but can you stay? We're not really talking about getting to .500, just playing every day and there's no reason to change now and have a letdown."

Clayton Kershaw pitched twice on the trip, took over the ERA lead, extended his league-leading strikeout total, won his 18th game, and picked up a Cy Young endorsement from two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum. The Dodgers officially lost infielders Juan Uribe and Casey Blake to season-ending surgeries on the trip, and they decided that right fielder Andre Ethier's season will end next week as well.

At a time when the Giants collapsed, the Dodgers could have given up months ago. Instead, it means the Dodgers offseason rebuilding won't be as drastic and there's a lot of positives about the future.

"That's a beautiful plus," general manager Ned Colletti said. "It tells you who they are. A lot of times when you have a team with expectations and you fall 13 back, 14 back, whatever it was, and double digits under .500, a lot of those teams go home. They have the makings of a really negative August and September."

Despite all that winning, the Dodgers aren't much closer to first-place Arizona. They came into Sunday having won 15 of 18 games, and had lost a half-game in the standings in that time to the red-hot Diamondbacks. Their "tragic" number to get eliminated is now five.

They've won all those games with a roster mixed with some kids trying to prove they belong in the majors (Dee Gordon, Justin Sellers, Jerry Sands), some veterans trying to earn another contract (Juan Rivera, Rod Barajas, Dana Eveland), a MVP candidate (Matt Kemp), a Cy Young candidate (Kershaw), and a couple players trying to avoid getting non-tendered (James Loney and Hong-Chih Kuo).

Kershaw's next start will be Wednesday, at home against Arizona, a day after Cy Young competitor Ian Kennedy goes for his 20th win.

"He doesn't give in," Lincecum told the San Jose Mercury News, explaining his endorsement of Kershaw over Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee or Ian Kennedy. Lincecum is 0-3 against Kershaw this year. The scores were 2-1, 1-0 and 2-1.

"You can see his confidence when he's pitching," Lincecum continued. "He knows he's good. The most important thing as a pitcher is to know you'll get the job done. You can see it with him. He's done it all year."

Federowicz Will Just Have to Wait
Don Mattingly realizes the longer he waits to put catcher Tim Federowicz into a game, the more rusty he will get and the worse his performance might be.

Still, the Dodgers manager isn't in a hurry to write Federowicz's name into the lineup card just yet.

"I'm going to play him some," Mattingly said on Saturday, before the Giants scored a run in the first inning off Clayton Kershaw and then the Dodgers rallied with runs in the eighth and ninth inning for a 2-1 win.

"For the most part, we want Tim to get used to our system -- how we scout, how we prepare to pitch," Mattingly said. "I don't know if he's (seen) any of our major league guys, or caught them. We want him to get comfortable with them and comfortable with us."

Federowicz was acquired literally minutes before the July 31 trading deadline, along with Double-A starter Stephen Fife and low-A reliever Juan Rodriguez. In return the Dodgers had to send outfielder Trayvon Robinson to the Red Sox, who then shipped him to Seattle for Erik Bedard.

The lack of catching depth in the Dodgers organization and the lack of free agent catchers were part of general manager Ned Colletti's explanation for why he traded away the unproven but highly regarded Robinson.

Federowicz will have an opportunity to win an Opening Day job next spring. A lot will depend on whether the Dodgers sign a marquee free agent and need to go cheap at other positions.

Even if Federowicz doesn't make the Opening Day roster, he should be in the majors sometime next year. He's known as an above-average defensive catcher with improving offense.

"This is the first day, with the weather we've had, that he's even been on the field to hit (in batting practice)," Mattingly said. "We'll definitely get him in there. But I want him comfortable first."

Federowicz spent the early afternoon working with catchers coach Mike Borzello on blocking balls in the dirt. He's warming up relievers and catching bullpens to get familiar with each pitcher's stuff.

Kershaw won't be subjected to Federowicz learning on the fly when he's trying to put together the finishing touches on a Cy Young award.

Mattingly is also conscientious of starting his best players against contending teams. Even if the Giants have virtually no chance of catching the Diamondbacks for the NL West, that means Federowicz will continue sitting and watching through this weekend.

Sometime next week, it's possible Federowicz will finally get a start.

"It puts him in a bind because then he won't have played for 10 days, so what's it going to look like?" Mattingly said. "But I can't worry about that. I need him to get comfortable first and then get him in there."

Ethier is Done For The Season
Andre Ethier's season is over, the latest chapter in a two-week saga that started when Ethier insinuated to a newspaper columnist that he didn't want to keep playing, but the Dodgers were forcing him to play.

Ethier backed down from that claim, saying it was always his choice to play.

Based on a statement released by the Dodgers on Thursday, and comments by manager Don Mattingly, nothing dramatically changed in the last two weeks.

Ethier's troublesome right knee didn't get worse, but it wasn't getting better.

"It's kind of a group decision," Mattingly said. "Not that we thought it was going to improve. But at some point you get to the point, (you) get a second opinion, trying to get this process started (earlier), so basically the rehab turns into a longer period of time where he has more time to make sure he's healthy, so he can do the work he wants to do during the winter."

Thursday Ethier flew to Birmingham, Ala., to get a second opinion on his right knee from specialist Dr. James Andrews.

Details on the injury are limited because the medical staff was told it couldn't comment.

Ethier said, weeks ago, there was a skin fold caught under his right kneecap and the joint, which pinches. He said it affects his ability to generate any power.

After the firestorm from Ethier's comments to the Los Angeles Times, Ethier caught fire offensively. He had 10 hits in 25 at-bats with two doubles, a home run and 11 RBI.

"I'm just trying to figure this whole thing out right now, and figure out a way to get it better where it won't affect me for spring training," Ethier told reporters Thursday. The 2011 season was bizarre for Ethier. It started with a 30-game hitting streak, but lacked the power. He'll finish with a .292 average, 11 home runs (a career-low) and 62 RBI.

How much the knee affected Ethier, or how much it was simply an off year, isn't known. Ethier's agent and general manager Ned Colletti talked in mid-August, when the Dodgers were in Milwaukee, about offseason cleanup surgery on the knee.

Ethier's bombshell quotes, in a story published Aug. 28, took the Dodgers by surprise because they had talked with Ethier's agent again a few days before and nothing was new about the knee.

But now, with the season clearly over and rosters expanded to include top power prospect Jerry Sands, the time has come to go ahead with the inevitable.

NOTES, QUOTES --RF Andre Ethier will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery on Wednesday in Los Angeles by Dr. Neal ElAttrache. Recovery is about 6-8 weeks, so he'll have a jump start on his offseason rehab, and be ready for spring training.

--RHP Javy Guerra has dealt with a crack in a fingernail on his pitching hand the last few weeks. It affected him a little warming up before Saturday's game, and he walked the first batter on four pitches. But Guerra was able to pitch a scoreless inning, picking up his 18th save in 19 chances.

--RHP Chad Billingsley will make his next start on Tuesday, after coming off his shortest outing of the season Wednesday, going just 2 2/3 innings. Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt spotted a flaw in his mechanics during a recent bullpen session, after viewing video from 2008 and 2009. Billingsley changed his arm slot, getting a little higher, instead of a three-quarter slot. Honeycutt reported that Billingsley could feel the ball with his fingertips better as he released, a good sign.

--RHP Hiroki Kuroda was ineffective Sunday once again, giving up three runs on nine base runners in 4 2/3 innings. Hong-Chih Kuo stranded two of Kuroda's inherited runners to end the fifth. In his last three starts, Kuroda's given up 12 runs in 16 2/3 innings.

--OF/1B Jerry Sands will definitely get a lot of playing time the final 2.1 weeks of the season. Class AA Chattanooga was eliminated from the playoffs on Saturday, and the Dodgers decided against calling up additional players. The current roster won't change, and with RF Andre Ethier out, that means Sands will start a lot. Sands went 0-for-4 on Sunday with two strikeouts, and is 1-for-14 since getting called up earlier this week.

BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- Players in the starting lineup Saturday who had spent time at Class AAA Albuquerque. They were shortstop Dee Gordon, third baseman Justin Sellers, left fielder Jerry Sands, catcher A.J. Ellis and starting pitcher Dana Eveland. For good measure, the two relievers used, Kenley Jansen and Javy Guerra, spent time at Class AA Chattanooga this year. The Dodgers won 3-0, and that put them back to .500 for the first time since May 2.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He keeps pitching like that, it's hard to count a guy out. It's the second time he's pitched like that. Both times he gives you a lot of different looks, changes speeds, has the changeup." -- Manager Don Mattingly, on the chances of LHP Dana Eveland earning a job in the rotation next season. Eveland has allowed one run in two starts, since getting called up on Sept. 1, but his history in the majors is two great starts and then faltering.

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