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07/11/09 11:01 PM ET

What pressure? Ethier feels just fine

Los Angeles (55-32) at Milwaukee (45-42), 11:05 a.m. PT

MILWAUKEE -- Dodgers manager Joe Torre has said several times that Andre Ethier put too much pressure on himself when Manny Ramirez was serving his 50-game suspension for violating MLB's substance abuse policy.

Ethier disagrees, saying he played ball the same during that stretch as he has anytime during his career, also noting his current production is on par -- and in some cases better -- with the numbers he put up at this point last season.

As the Dodgers wrap up the season's first half on Sunday against the Brewers -- a game that will be shown on TBS with Chip Caray calling play-by-play and Buck Martinez serving as analyst -- the numbers back up Ethier's side of the argument.

"I think [Ramirez is] a security blanket for our guys," said Torre about what having the slugger back meant for his club. "Ethier especially, he's taken a lot more on his shoulders probably than he should have. But I think [Ramirez is] eventually going to help him get back and hit where he should be hitting."

To Ethier, where he's hitting is just fine. Admittedly, the batting average is down for the 27-year-old outfielder, who entered 2009 with a career average of .299 in three seasons.

Following Saturday's game against Milwaukee, Ethier was hitting just .251. However, he was making up for his lack of contact with added power, including a solo home run in the fifth inning Saturday, his only hit of the game.

At the end of the first half last season, the Ethier had 11 home runs and 41 RBIs. As of Saturday, he had 18 and 56, respectively.

"I don't think my numbers went down at all," Ethier said. "If you look at my numbers compared to last year, the only thing that went down was maybe my average, but all my power numbers are up considerably."

Although those numbers favor Ethier's mindset, Torre has numbers to back up his statement. Before Ramirez's suspension, Ethier was hitting .317 with six home runs and 27 RBIs in 29 games. He also had struck out just 16 times.

In the 49 games Ethier played during Ramirez's suspension, he batted mostly in the third or cleanup spot in the order. His power numbers remained fairly consistent (nine homers, 25 RBIs), but he hit just .221 during that span, striking out 43 times.

Ethier said he reasoned the higher strikeout total was a stretch that players go through every now and then, saying, "In this league, you're going to strike out sometimes."

Before Saturday, Ethier was hitting .200 with two homers since Ramirez's return. His recent speedbumps notwithstanding, Ethier said he is perfectly fine with how the first half of the season has gone. He also adamantly said he never felt added pressure during Ramirez's absence.

"I'm here competing for a job next year any way I can," Ethier said. "I'm not sure if it's going to be here or with another team, so I have to go out there and perform well. Minus one guy or not, I still have to go out there and play well and perform well."

Pitching matchup
LAD: LHP Clayton Kershaw, LHP (6-5, 3.27)
Kershaw kept his roll intact with six scoreless innings against the Mets on Tuesday. The left-hander has now allowed only two earned runs in the past 29 2/3 innings covering five starts. He has won three of those, and the Dodgers have won them all. Kershaw struck out seven with two walks, showing the Mets a dazzling breaking ball along with his 94-mph fastball. He is also 4-0 with a 1.38 ERA in his past four road starts, after going 0-3 with a 9.47 ERA in his first four road starts.

MIL: RHP Yovani Gallardo, RHP (8-6, 2.95)
The Brewers opted to have Gallardo miss a four-game series against the Cubs last week so he could get one extra start before the All-Star break. Gallardo put up All-Star numbers in the first half of the season, but missed the cut for the Midsummer Classic and then struggled against the Cardinals in his start on Tuesday (four runs on six hits, including a pair of homers in five innings). The Dodgers are the only National League opponent Gallardo has yet to face.

Torre said left-handed starter Eric Milton, who went on the 15-day disabled list on Sunday with a strained back, "is not good." The skipper said Milton was running in the outfield at New York's Citi Field on Thursday when he did something to cause more pain in his lower back. Milton told Torre he has had similar back situations throughout his career, but nothing compared to the current pain. Torre said the injury, "looks like it's going to be long-term." ... Along with three of his players, Torre will also make the trip to St. Louis for the All-Star Game as part of NL manager Charlie Manuel's coaching staff. Torre, who played six seasons for the Cardinals, said that St. Louis holds a special place in his heart. He said he matured as a person with the Cardinals and was disappointed when he had to move on. "It may have been one of the biggest disappointments in my career there when I had to leave there," said Torre, who also managed the Cardinals in the first half of the 1990's. "I remember writing a letter to [the Busch Family] expressing my sadness for leaving and not being able to be part of a championship club." ... After Matt Kemp hit a grand slam to put the Dodgers up six runs on Friday night, Torre told Ramirez to head to the clubhouse for an early night. Even with the early departure, Ramirez almost had to come back. "I told him, 'That's it for you' once we scored those runs and [bench coach Bob Schaefer] had to go get him, because we had to have him out on deck in case he came up again, because I couldn't use another player," Torre said. "He put his uniform back on, and I said, 'I don't care if you take three strikes -- I can't use another player.' But it didn't matter."

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Up next
• Monday-Wednesday: All-Star break

Cash Kruth is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.