Is an injured Andre Ethier a liability?

ST. LOUIS -- One of the first people getting dressed in the Los Angeles Dodgers' clubhouse after their 3-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals over 13 excruciating innings in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series could have gone a long way in curing what ails this team.

Matt Kemp made the trip to St. Louis. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, he was gliding around on a little scooter, because he's supposed to keep his weight off his injured left ankle but can't use crutches because he just had shoulder surgery.

That's kind of the state of center field for the Dodgers right now: hurting in a lot of places.

It hurt them in a lot of places Friday and, in fact, Saturday because the game lasted nearly five hours. Andre Ethier, pressed into duty with a painful left leg injury because the Dodgers want his bat in their lineup, confessed he could have caught the first of Carlos Beltran's clutch hits, the two-run double in the third inning that sailed under Ethier's glove as he leaped and slammed off the center-field wall.

Had Ethier caught that one, Beltran's winning single in the 13th never happens. Then again, had the Dodgers come up with a clutch hit in their roughly 10,000 opportunities, it never happens, either.

"No excuses," Ethier said. "You have to come up with it any way you can. That's why I was out there, is to play defense, not just hit."

Ethier didn't hit much either, going 1-for-5 with a walk and two strikeouts. That was no crime, though. Neither did many other Dodgers on a night in which they batted .100 (1-for-10) with runners in scoring position.

Ethier entered the Dodgers' clubhouse after taking a long walk down a corridor at Busch Stadium accompanied by the team doctor, which could be an indication Ethier underwent a further examination after the game. With Kemp out for the postseason and Ethier playing at what appears to be 60 percent, the Dodgers seem to be at a loss for what to do in center field.

The safe play is Skip Schumaker, but he batted .231 in the NLDS and the Dodgers seem to think they need offensive depth to hang with the Cardinals, who led the league in runs scored and on-base percentage.

Perhaps the epitome of this messy picture was Scott Van Slyke jogging out to play center field in the final inning as part of a double switch. Ethier looked stunned initially that he was being replaced by a player who had never played a major-league inning in one of the most important defensive positions on the field. Good time to experiment, huh, in the final inning of an NLCS game?

And, by the way, Van Slyke doesn't have the grace or speed of his father, Andy, in case you were wondering. Ethier admitted before the game he would have preferred to have a little more time to heal, but felt he had to give it a go after being approached by his teammates, who urged him to play.

Just a little more push off his left leg and Ethier might have changed the whole course of this series. Not that it's hopeless now, but the Dodgers would have been sitting pretty if they could have won this one, with Clayton Kershaw pitching Saturday and then three home games to sew it up. Now, the Dodgers are going to have to find a way to win at least one of the three more games they could play in St. Louis.

Mattingly didn't fault Ethier for not catching Beltran's shot. He said it would have been a great play, which is true. But it also seemed to be a play Ethier made more times than not when he was healthier.

His status for the rest of the series seems to be day-to-day, at best. Ethier said he was feeling a bit fatigued after all those innings in the field, and said he was only able to play because of the adrenaline of the setting.

"I wasn't feeling it out there all night, but we'll see how I feel tomorrow," he said.

The Dodgers were able to survive with Schumaker playing every inning in the NLDS. It might be time to take the conservative route again and, should they get through another series, take another chance at seeing if Ethier can go. He looked as if he were running the bases at about half speed, and that could easily become an even bigger problem at some point in this series.

Friday's game was full of intrigue, twists and openings to question managerial strategy. In other words, it was a playoff game.

People will also be buzzing about Mattingly's decision to pinch run for his cleanup hitter, Adrian Gonzalez, in the eighth inning. That decision will look bad only because the runner, Dee Gordon, didn't run on reliever reliever Carlos Martinez, so the Dodgers lost one of their big bats and their best pinch runner in one failed gambit.

The hitter who replaced Gonzalez, Michael Young, failed twice to drive in a runner in scoring position. He hit a shallow fly ball that resulted in Mark Ellis' getting thrown out at the plate by Beltran, and he hit into an inning-ending double play in the 12th to wipe out a two-on, one-out rally.

"You've got to shoot your bullet when you get the chance," Mattingly said. "If we don't use him there and the next guy hits a ball in the gap and he doesn't score, we're going to say, 'Why didn't you use Dee?' "

And the more appropriate question might be: "Why did you use Andre?"