Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 4/4/12
It was a season of extremes for Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier in 2011. An All-Star and a Gold Glove winner who took a 30-game hitting streak into May, Ethier's season ended prematurely in an awkward public disagreement with the club over the treatment and severity of a knee injury that had altered his mechanics. Though he bat .292 in his sixth season as a Dodger since his rookie year of 2006, his 11 homeruns and 62 RBI were the lowest totals since his rookie year. Ethier enters the 2012 season ready to accept the added pressure of having to produce in a contract year. It's a venture that shouldn't be hindered by the batting behind an MVP candidate in Matt Kemp, where he'll be facing an awful lot of pitchers working from the stretch, concerned with a self-proclaimed 5050 hopeful on the basepaths. Mashing the ball in spring training must count for something he finished with 15 extra base hits and 16 runs batted in over 51 at bats and for Ethier it's the confidence that his ability to help the team win ballgames is where it needs to be to begin the year. "We're coming out and just trying to figure out how to help this team win on an everyday basis," Ethier said Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. "That's the key here. Obviously we're having a good springand if we can translate it to on the field, and how we're playing, then this organization will be back to where we need it to be." The Dodgers need him to become a fearsome middle-of-the-order presence with Kemp if they're to have any confidence at contending for much more than a fight for a playoff spot. Of the last four Los Angeles playoff teams, all had something to offer offensively. In 2006 and 2009, the team led the NL in batting average. The 2004 team clubbed 203 homeruns. In 2008, a lack of power was off-set by a team that finished fifth in the NL in batting average and stole 126 bases. Many of the early returns have been encouraging. As part of a 2-4, 4 RBI performance last Friday, Ethier drove a down-and-in fastball from Brewers lefthander Juan Perez deep over the rightfield wall for his third homerun of the spring. He bat .220 with one homerun against lefties last year. The mechanical adjustments against lefthanders he detailed in a discussion with Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times after an 0-2 performance in a Cactus League game last month has apparently made inroads. "I had two tough at-bats today against that lefty," Ethier said of his March 19 performance against Chris Narveson of Milwaukee. "I think it was a little mechanical thing. I figured out after that second at-bat that I was overstriding a little bit and shortened up a lot. I think that's the key more than anything. If I go out there and have sound mechanics and feel comfortable in the box, righty, lefty, it doesn't matter." Because his season ended in early September, he wasn't around to experience the completion of the Dodgers' modest turnaround into a team with a winning percentage above .500 as younger players grew into their roles under first-year manager Don Mattingly. "It's tough to carry momentum over from any year," Ethier said, "but I think more than anything we had guys that gained a lot of experience and had those up and downs from last year know that it's not fun when you're not playing well, and when it ended the way it did, guys want to hold on to that feeling and recapture it, and that's something we're trying to do right now."
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