WASHINGTON -- Last month, Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier met with manager Don Mattingly, hitting coach Mark McGwire and assistant hitting coach John Valentin. The veteran had been struggling through much of the season, with his average dipping as low as .229 in early June, and the coaches gave him a simple message.
"Let's just work on, every day go out there and get one hit and build from that one hit and keep building from there," Ethier recalled after Saturday's game, when his solo home run in the top of the ninth inning provided the go-ahead tally in a 3-2 win over the Nationals.
Ethier seems to have taken that approach and run with it. Since June 11, he is hitting .342 with a .413 on-base percentage in 32 games. His season average has climbed to .269.
He also has split his time in left field, moving over from his natural right-field position to make room for Yasiel Puig, and center, where the Dodgers needed help with Matt Kemp on the disabled list.
"I don't think a whole lot's changed mechanically," Mattingly said of Ethier. "I think the fact that he seems to be happy playing and he's playing all over for us and making contributions in that way, and sometimes that frees you up to not only think about your hitting, so he's been able to make contributions in different areas. He's just given us good at-bats."
Ethier said that when he went to the plate against Nationals closer Rafael Soriano in Friday's ninth inning, Mattingly simply told him to get on base any way he could. Instead, he lofted the ball just over the right-field wall for his sixth home run and first since June 11.
The one element missing from Ethier's resurgence had been power. He is still slugging .389, 80 points below his career mark. Mattingly believes a string of injuries has cut into Ethier's power since he hit a career-best 31 homers in 2009, but he believes the underlying ability is still present.
"I think that 30 home runs is there and the damage is there," Mattingly said. "Obviously it's going to change as you get older and get banged up and things happen, but I still think he's plenty good enough so that one of those years is still in there."
Ethier agrees, although he knows a 30-homer season is likely out of reach in 2013.
"Well, if I do it this year," he said, "that's going to be a miracle."
No setback, but Crawford out of lineup
WASHINGTON -- Dodgers left fielder Carl Crawford was out of the lineup on Saturday, but manager Don Mattingly said the move was not indicative of any problem with Crawford's back.
Crawford made his first start in 10 days on Friday and went 0-for-4. With the heat in Washington and with the Nationals starting left-hander Gio Gonzalez on Saturday, Mattingly felt it was a good day to rest Crawford.
"The back's been bothering him a little bit and different things, so I think we do have to be careful," Mattingly said. "I kind of feel like we're always going to have to be a little bit careful with Carl as far as number of days in a row. So I don't think we're ever going to see Carl play 150 games-type thing anymore."
Crawford entered as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning of Saturday's 3-1, 10-inning win over Washington, going 1-for-2. He should be back in the lineup on Sunday against righty Jordan Zimmermann, and the Dodgers' series in Toronto that starts on Monday should afford the outfielder at least one start at designated hitter.
Crawford also is trying to rediscover the form he showed during the first two months of the season, when he hit .293/.352/.453. Since coming off the disabled list on July 5, he is 2-for-30 with no extra-base hits, two walks and eight strikeouts in nine games.
"He seems a little rusty since he came off the DL," Mattingly said. "Early in the year, he swung the bat really well and he really was kind of like our catalyst as much as anything, and since he's came back, he's really kind of struggled, to be honest. But that to me is just a matter of time until he gets his timing and gets on a roll and adds another piece to this mix."
Mattingly uncertain when Kemp will be activated
WASHINGTON -- Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp took another step toward coming off the disabled list on Sunday, but manager Don Mattingly wasn't ready to commit to that move before Saturday's game against the Nationals.
For the second straight day, Kemp faced teammate Ted Lilly, who is also on the disabled list, in a simulated game. The two squared off in a series of at-bats, with coaches giving them different situations, such as having runners on second and third with one out and the infield in. Kemp hit a pair of home runs against the left-hander.
Kemp has been out since July 5, when he irritated the AC joint in his left shoulder while taking a swing. Mattingly said he will have to talk to his medical staff before making a final decision.
"He's gonna be eligible for [Sunday], but I'm not sure what we're doing yet," Mattingly said.
As for Lilly, he will throw a longer simulated game while the team is in Toronto next week
"Ted was OK, back-to-back [days] and he seemed the same today as yesterday," Mattingly said. "He was OK, his location was OK, threw a couple good breaking balls and a couple sloppy breaking balls."
• Backup catcher Tim Federowicz got the start behind the plate on Saturday, with Mattingly wanting to give A.J. Ellis a rest ahead of Sunday's day game and with temperatures in Washington well into the 90s.
"We trust Fed," Mattingly said. "We know in August we're gonna be in St. Louis, we're gonna be in Chicago, we're gonna have to play both guys. There was no way A.J. was gonna catch all three here."
• According to ESPN Stats & Info, Ethier now has hit at least one homer to tie a game or put the Dodgers ahead in the ninth inning or later in each of the past seven seasons. He hit four in 2009, and one in each of the other six years.
Ethier's seven go-ahead shots in the ninth inning or later over the past five seasons tie him for the most in the Majors with Kemp, the Orioles' Adam Jones, the A's Chris Young and the Reds' Jay Bruce.