LOS ANGELES, Calif. - All-star right-fielder Andre Ethier was held out of the Los Angeles Dodgers' starting lineup because of a sore right knee, and the team wants to find out the exact nature of the injury.
"It was hard to throw him out there today," Mattingly said before the series finale against Colorado. "We know he's got a knee thing going on and that it's kind of affected his swing some. So if he's not doing some of the things we know he's capable of, then you know there's something going on."
Ethier went public with his problem in Sunday's Los Angeles Times, which caused a clamour throughout the clubhouse and resulted in a 15-minute closed-door meeting with first-year manager Don Mattingly and general manager Ned Colletti.
The outfielder's remarks to a Times columnist gave the impression that Ethier had repeatedly told the Dodgers he couldn't play and that they instead insisted he did.
Mattingly denied the implication, saying that he was "blindsided" by the information in the column and emphasizing that he doesn't have any communication problems with Ethier.
"I was a little taken back by it," Mattingly said. "I talked to 'Dre about it to see if he felt that the way it came out was accurate. To me, the way I read it, was that 'Dre's been telling us he can't play and we just said: 'Well, you're playing, anyway.' And that's definitely not the case. I would never do that. That's not part of my DNA.
"If a guy tells me he can play, then he can play. From our standpoint, we've constantly checked to make sure he's OK. I'd rather lose my job and us not win than put a guy out there who has a chance of hurting himself and doing something that would affect his career in a long-term way in any way, shape or form — especially if he says, 'Hey, I can't go.' To me, that takes a shot at my integrity, the organization, the training staff and Ned. But it really gets back to me, personally — that I would put a guy out there that was hurt and was taking a shot at hurting his career. I would never do that. And I told 'Dre that, too."
Ethier, who had career highs with 31 homers and 106 RBIs in 2009, told the Times: "If you're expecting me to do what I've done in the past, no, there's no possible way I can do that right now. You can say tough it out and give it your best shot, but it's not going to happen. It's only going to get worse from this point. I've dealt with it all season long, but as the season goes on my body wears down. That's just the way it is. I keep getting put in the lineup, so what am I supposed to do?"
When asked if Ethier would have been in the lineup Sunday if the Dodgers were still in the NL West race instead of 11 games out, Mattingly said: "None of that to me is really at issue. It's kind of separate from the issue right now. I don't want to get into his dispute, but he basically told me that he's never told us that he can't play. I just told him what I read made it sound like he came out and told us he can't play — and that we were saying: 'Well, we don't care. You're playing.' He admitted that he never said he can't play, but he did acknowledge that he can't control how it comes out."
Ethier, who hasn't appeared to be favouring the knee, was thrown out at home plate in each of the previous two games. On Friday, he ran through third base coach Tim Wallach's stop sign trying to score on a fly to centre field. On Saturday, he was out trying to score on a two-run double by Casey Blake.
Ethier declined to discuss the matter with reporters before the game. He saw team doctor Neal ElAttrache to determine the extent of the injury, and could be facing possible surgery during the off-season.
"If he needs to have surgery, and he's better off getting it done now, why shouldn't he? There's no reason not to do it," Mattingly said. "But he basically wants to keep playing."
Ethier is batting .286 with 10 home runs and 51 RBIs in 127 games, and had a 30-game hitting streak early in the season. He not committed an error all season. His latest headline only added more embarrassment to the kind of season that has transpired at Chavez Ravine with the team entering Sunday seven games under .500 despite a five-game winning streak.
"I know it's pretty easy right now to pile on the Dodgers and what's been going on here," Mattingly said. "But to me, this is off base from the standpoint that it kind of makes us look like we're going to let this guy get hurt to save a few pennies in arbitration. I mean, come on."