On Thursday Andre Ethier started in back-to-back games for the first time this season while collecting his first base hit. Dave Roberts has allowed the long-tenured Dodger to get some games in so that he has the opportunity to get into a rhythm. Ethier is playing for a postseason roster spot, but the veteran is in a competition with rookie Andrew Toles going down the stretch.
Bill Plunkett of the OC Register wrote about the roster battle between the two outfielders.
“He’s worked hard to get back to a position where he can help us in September and hopefully be on it,” Roberts said of Ethier’s chances. “You look at him and Toles, the left-handed bats these last 17 games we’re going to really lock in and see what makes the most sense.”
What does make more sense?
Andre Ethier has worked hard to return after suffering a right leg fracture during spring training. Still, it’s hard to gauge whether Ethier can be the same player he was in 2015 when he had a resurgent season with the Dodgers and hit .294/.366/.486/.852 with 14 home runs and 20 doubles in 142 games played or if he will be the Ethier who struggled in 2014 en route to only mustering four home runs in 130 games played.
Ethier’s well-established inability to hit left-handed pitching (.234/.292/.344/.635) would not boost a team who has frustratingly struggled against left-handed pitching all year. The Dodgers already have plenty of left-handed hitters in the outfield, including Ethier, Joc Pederson, Andrew Toles and Josh Reddick. With Pederson and Reddick likely locks for the postseason roster, Roberts will have the difficult decision choosing between Ethier and Toles for the final spot.
Yasiel Puig also factors into the equation. If he continues to contribute on the field and be on time, he is valuable from the right-side of the plate and defensively spectacular in the outfield. So unless his shoulder is barking or he pops another hamstring, Puig will be included on the postseason roster.
Toles, ten years younger than Ethier, has put together a brief but impactful baseball cover letter for Roberts. Since being called up on July 8, Toles is hitting .342/.398/.582/.980 with 27 hits, including three home runs, eight doubles and a triple. He’s struck out 20 times with seven walks in 88 plate appearances. His memorable ninth-inning grand slam against the Rockies at the end of August was one of the highlights of the season, and his story of overcoming personal struggles made it impossible not to root for his success.
Toles has cooled off at the plate the last 14 days (.211), but his ability to hit both right-handers and left-handers, along with his speed, could make him a valuable player to have on the Dodgers’ postseason roster. Although it is a small sample size, Toles is hitting .333 with a home run in nine at-bats against left-handed pitching this year.
Roberts will likely give Ethier additional playing time, and that’s a justified call considering Ethier has been with the team 11 years. Beyond veteran etiquette, Ethier could be a valuable bench player in the playoffs if he is healthy and looking more like Captain Clutch and less like 2014 Ethier.
Even though I think Ethier is sometimes undervalued as far as his contributions to the Dodgers over the entire scope of his career, Toles is definitely a valid option considering the potential he has shown. It won’t be an easy choice, but we shall see more of Ethier’s capability in the days to come. He’s still essentially playing with a broken leg, so unless he’s going to go Kirk Gibson on us in the World Series, the better option may be a healthy Toles.