Andre Ethier hasn’t played since Saturday and had been scratched on a couple of occasions recently. Now, we know why.
MRI showed mild herniation of a disc for Andre Ethier. Down 7-10 days after Monday epidural
— Eric Stephen (@truebluela) March 21, 2017
Earlier this month, it was his hip that was bothering him. It caused him to miss 11 games. Now, he has a mild herniation of a disc in his back, which still sounds really painful.
It’s too bad because Ethier had been slashing .500/.684/.834 when he actually played. He hit well last spring (.435/.517/.652) before breaking his leg on a foul ball he hit off his right shin. When he’s 100 percent, he’s the Dodgers’ best option for left field (against right-handed pitching). But with this setback so late in the month of March, he might not man left field on opening day for the Dodgers.
Naturally, this would seem to open the door for Andrew Toles, last year’s surprise player. But it may open the door for a different outfielder.
It’s easy to expect Toles to be the direct beneficiary, seeing as he also hits left-handed, but perhaps Scott Van Slyke opens the season in LA if Ethier is unable to break camp on the active roster.
Van Slyke appears to be recovered from his offseason wrist surgery — something that hampered him most of last season. Despite the struggles, he still posted a 100 wRC+ against lefties last season. It was 124 the year before in another downish season after posting a 194 mark against southpaws in 2014. He has an option remaining, so he’s a candidate to begin the season with Oklahoma City — especially if Trayce Thompson is 100 percent. With Thompson and Franklin Gutierrez in the fold, there may not be room for another outfielder on the 25-man roster if Ethier is healthy. If Ethier begins on the disabled list, then the Dodgers will almost assuredly take add a player capable of playing the outfield. The three candidates would be Van Slyke, Toles and Enrique Hernandez.
I wrote about Hernandez earlier, as he battles Chris Taylor for the backup shortstop/third base spot. If he doesn’t get that spot, I’m not sure the Dodgers would or should choose Hernandez over either Van Slyke or Toles.
While I want Toles to be successful and be the guy he was last season, it’s still too early to tell if he’s really that guy. He hit .331/.374/.511 in the minors last season (349 plate appearances) and followed that up with a .314/.365/.505 line in the majors (115 plate appearances). But after his game-winning grand slam in Colorado on Aug. 31, Toles hit just .213/.229/.277 the rest of the way (48 PA), with a 27.1 percent strikeout rate. Maybe it was just a slump, maybe it was him wearing down over the course full season (after missing the entire 2015 campaign); we may not ever know. But he has just 59 plate appearances in Triple-A, so some more seasoning for him wouldn’t be the worst thing.
I don’t have a strong preference one way or the other here. If it’s Toles, great. If it’s Van Slyke, that’s great too. The fact is, the Dodgers have a lot of options to fill voids left by injuries. Of course, Ethier might not miss that much time, but we all know how finicky back injuries can be.