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03/06/12 7:20 PM EST

Ethier looks strong against lefty pitcher

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Andre Ethier homered off left-hander Barry Zito Tuesday. That's two good signs for the Dodgers outfielder.

Ethier is coming off September knee surgery that was hoped would return the power to the left-handed slugger, who dropped 12 home runs and 20 RBIs from 2010.

In addition, his batting average against left-handed pitchers has been almost in complete retreat since his first season of 2006: .351/.279/.243/.194/.233/.220.

"I'm able to keep my front side closed now," said Ethier. "Keep the hips closed rather than rotate. It's the same in golf. You need that torque. Now I can set my front leg and it results in power, knowing that I don't feel a twinge and that I don't have to second-guess myself because I have to compensate for what I can't do. Yesterday [a double] and today are from the work I did over the winter."

Manager Don Mattingly said he would be impressed with what he sees from Ethier even if he wasn't coming off surgery.

"It's amazing to me when guys can swing like that right away," said Mattingly, who was a slow starter in Spring Training as a player. "I'm always amazed to see guys just jump in and start to hit."

Mattingly said he can see a difference in Ethier's mechanics from last year.

"I see him square right now and I know his swing is going to be short," he said. "His contact points are good right now."

Mattingly said he plans to bat Ethier fourth against right-handed pitching and fifth against left-handed pitching, as he did Tuesday, when Juan Rivera hit behind Matt Kemp.

Mattingly shrugs off Lilly's shaky debut

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Ted Lilly got knocked around in his spring debut Tuesday, serving up a pair of first-inning home runs, five extra-base hits and five runs total to the Giants over two innings.

"I told him it was better off to do that than strike out the side and he's got nowhere to go," joked manager Don Mattingly, who noted that Lilly is a notorious slow starter. "I'd rather he be slow down here."

Last spring Lilly's slow spring turned into an erratic first half, pitching through a sore elbow until he righted the ship. He was 6-10 with a 5.08 ERA on July 23, but finished up 6-4 with a 2.66 for a total 12-14, 3.97.

Lilly said he struggled with his fastball command (he also had a walk and wild pitch), but was fine physically. Mattingly, though, said he thought Lilly was at least better than he was last spring, when the flu sidelined him for a week.

"Last year early Ted was all over the place," he said. "This year he looks different. I really think he's throwing better than he did last year."

Lindblom grateful for Koufax's advice

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When you see Josh Lindblom snap off a good curveball, think of Sandy Koufax.

Lindblom does.

Koufax's visit to Camelback Ranch last week reminded Lindblom of a bullpen session he was having two springs ago. With the usual pitching coaches offering tips from behind the mound, one noticed Lindblom struggling with his breaking-ball release and offered some tips. Lindblom, focused on the plate and not turning around to face the coaches, tried to implement each suggestion.

"He says, 'Imagine a bucket on home plate and throw the curveball into the bucket,'" Lindblom recalled. "It made sense at the time. So I spun the ball into the bucket. It worked, I turned around to see who it was and it was like, 'Holy smoke, it's Sandy Koufax.'

"My focus intensified when I realized it was a guy who had one of the best curveballs in history. I locked in and focused. And when I struggle, I still think about that and another thing he said -- 'see how many times the ball spins before it gets to the plate.' That makes you really focus on snapping it off.

"You hear stories about hitters saying they could hear the laces spinning on Koufax's fastball. He sees two pitches and makes a suggestion and you make an adjustment that quickly. He's great at simplifying things. He doesn't make it rocket science."

Lindblom made his spring debut Tuesday with a hitless inning against the Giants. He had an impressive 2.73 ERA in 27 appearances with the Dodgers last year and is trying to fend off the challenges from a crowd of non-roster invitees to win a bullpen job.

Ely planning to work way back to Majors

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- There was a familiar pitcher sent over from the Minor League side to provide an extra bullpen arm for the Dodgers on Tuesday.

Remember John Ely?

In 2010, he made a meteoric arrival. Called up from Double-A in April as Charlie Haeger's replacement, Ely reeled off six consecutive quality starts (most for a rookie since Hideo Nomo in 1995) with pinpoint accuracy and had a 2.54 ERA before the wheels came off as he lost nine of his last 10 decisions.

From 100 innings and 18 starts that year, he fell off the map in 2011. He spent most of the year at Triple-A Albuquerque with only 12 2/3 Major League innings, passed by Double-A hard throwers Rubby De La Rosa, Nathan Eovaldi and Josh Lindblom.

Ely was taken off the roster last fall when the Dodgers protected young pitchers Chris Withrow, Josh Wall, Stephen Fife and Michael Antonini. The surprise to Ely, however, was not being invited to Major League Spring Training this year after he cleared waivers and was outrighted.

"I'm a little disappointed," Ely said. "I would have liked to be invited to camp. Whatever. I'll just have to work my way back up, that's all. You're only a couple good weeks away from being called up. I'm fine. It's not the end of the world."

Ely, 25, was drafted in 2007 in the third round by the White Sox, who traded him and Jon Link in 2009 to the Dodgers in the Juan Pierre deal.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.