Dodgers' Ethier coming around at plate
Insight from Mattingly helps outfielder break through slump
LOS ANGELES -- It's no secret that Andre Ethier has struggled since Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games on May 7 for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy.Entering Tuesday night's game against the D-backs, Ethier was batting .175 with no home runs and three RBIs in 22 games since Ramirez's suspension. But Ethier connected for his first home run in nearly a month on Tuesday and also added a double against one of the league's best pitchers in right-hander Dan Haren. Dodgers manager Joe Torre said Wednesday he thinks he's seeing signs that Ethier is starting to emerge from his slump. "In Ethier's case, I think sometimes when he takes batting practice, he overemphasizes going the other way," Torre said. "Yesterday in batting practice he was hitting the ball on the button. And not just during the game on the home run but the double, too. His bat had some life to it." Torre compared Ethier's struggles to a similar drought by former Yankees designated hitter Jason Giambi, who also tried to go the other way instead of pulling the ball. Giambi eventually realized he should start pulling the ball again based on the advice of hitting coach Don Mattingly and came out of his funk. "Donnie noticed you lose bat speed," Torre said. "You tend to serve out there instead of driving it hard." Torre had high praise for Mattingly, now the Dodgers' hitting coach, because of the way he simplifies things for hitters. "What Donnie tries to do is unclutter the thought process," Torre said. "I don't know if you can teach patience, but in our meetings when Donnie talks about a certain pitcher and how he works, he doesn't just talk about what a pitcher has, but he simplifies it beyond that about how a pitcher likes to work." One of the ways Mattingly helps hitters with their approach is by giving them percentages for where a pitcher likes to throw. "He'll say that 80 percent of the time the pitcher does this," Torre said. "So the chances are that's what he'll do. So sometimes he'll give the pitcher half the plate, but if it's the half of the plate he only uses 20 percent of the time, the chances of getting something to work with it are better. It also encourages patience because you're locked in on one side of the plate and you can look for a pitch." The process certainly works for the Dodgers as they lead the National League in runs scored, batting average and on-base percentage.
Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.