LOS ANGELES -- Despite having three of the highest-paid outfielders in baseball, the Dodgers apparently haven't been able to find a solution they're comfortable with in center field.
For the second straight game Friday night, the Dodgers were facing a right-handed pitcher and Andre Ethier was not in the starting lineup. In addition to batting only .250 with four home runs in 279 plate appearances, Ethier grades out as a below-average center fielder in advanced defensive metrics.
The Dodgers moved Matt Kemp out of center field in late May for defensive reasons and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has said he wasn't interested in moving Kemp back to center.
Mattingly said Friday the benching of Ethier is in part due to an assortment of physical ailments Ethier is dealing with, but performance also has clearly played a part.
"He's had some leg issues and other issues. We want to make sure we get him well," Mattingly said.
Some decision-makers within the Dodgers began to wonder during the last trip to Denver and Detroit -- two big outfields -- whether Ethier, 32, has the speed to play center field every day any longer.
Mattingly started Scott Van Slyke in center field the past two games, but Van Slyke, 27, has never been an everyday player and, at 6 feet 5 and 220 pounds, doesn't exactly profile as a typical center fielder either. The apparent loss of confidence in Ethier raises the possibility the Dodgers will eventually promote Joc Pederson from Triple-A Albuquerque. Pederson, who missed time after separating his shoulder, is playing again and is batting .325 with a 1.023 OPS for Albuquerque.
If the plan is to promote Pederson, general manager Ned Colletti might feel compelled to trade one of his veteran outfielders before the July 31 trade deadline, presuming he can find a taker. Carl Crawford was activated from the 15-day disabled list Thursday, but Mattingly said Crawford is to remain in a reserve role, at least for now. Crawford, who has good speed, hasn't played center field regularly since 2004, when he was 22. He has a well below-average throwing arm, the reason he plays left field exclusively.
Between Crawford and Ethier, the Dodgers have more than $35 million in salary being paid to reserve outfielders.