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Ethier playing like a man trying to win a job

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It has been a sluggish spring for most of the Dodgers' best hitters.

Yasiel Puig is batting .172 and has looked lost at times; No. 3 hitter Hanley Ramirez is batting .222; A.J. Ellis is hitting .083 and Carl Crawford is batting .136. Dee Gordon, who has been given every opportunity to win the second-base job, is hitting .172.

Given the fact that it's March 12, nobody on the Dodgers is panicking about the lack of hitting so far. But given the fact the Dodgers will be playing games that count in just over a week, it's also not entirely trifling. On Wednesday, the Dodgers lost 9-2 and were outhit 11-6 by a split-squad Arizona Diamondbacks team that, arguably, contained zero everyday players.

Andre Ethier is one of the few exceptions to the slow starts. After going 2-for-3 and driving in the only Dodgers runs with a two-run double, he is batting .357 in 28 at-bats. It might not be a coincidence that Ethier has looked so good so soon.

He said he started his offseason workouts just one week after the Dodgers were eliminated in the National League Championship Series. He normally takes off at least a month before getting back at it. Ethier, 31, said he's fighting off the effects of aging.

"It's just something I picked up. It's easier to play the game, because you know what's coming, but physically it's harder, because it's catching up to you," Ethier said. "When you take a break sometimes, it's tougher to get back into things. You rest when you're done, I guess."

There also could be the motivation of having to earn his playing time for the first time since his earliest big-league camps. Matt Kemp played the outfield for a couple of innings in a minor-league game Wednesday and is inching closer to a return. The Dodgers are grooming Ethier this spring as the fourth outfielder, in the sense that he is the only one of the four who is being asked to play all three positions.

Ethier said he was taking reps at all three outfield spots every day.

"Who knows where I'll be playing when the season starts," he said. "I'll have to move around and give guys breaks in left and right. I'm making sure I can play each one at a major-league level."