LOS ANGELES -- Jeff Pentland, fired by the Dodgers as hitting coach midway through the 2011 season, is back with the organization in a quasi batting coach role after being recruited by Matt Kemp.
"It's kind of weird. Strange," said the 66-year-old Pentland. "It came from Matt."
When Kemp went to Arizona to rehab his strained right hamstring earlier this month, he texted Pentland to rehab his swing. After discussing it with Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and current hitting coach Mark McGwire, Pentland worked with Kemp for eight days at the club's Camelback Ranch-Glendale complex in Arizona and joined him in Albuquerque for Kemp's rehab assignment.
Pentland's role is not easy to define, not even for Pentland. Mattingly said he is something similar to a special adviser, but Pentland said he wasn't sure what other tasks he'll have besides helping Kemp and he won't travel with the club. It could get awkward, with McGwire and assistant hitting coach John Valentin already responsible for the offense. Pentland followed Mattingly as hitting coach and was replaced by Dave Hansen, who has since been replaced by McGwire, the club's 11th hitting coach in the last 14 years.
"He got the blame for us not hitting," Mattingly said of Pentland. "How many coaches have they had here? You don't get rid of the players, you get rid of the coach. Kind of like the manager, you know? I'm glad to see we're willing to use his resources."
Pentland, who was a Triple-A hitting coach for Seattle last year but had been out of baseball this year, said he has no hard feelings returning to the same management team that fired him.
"I know how the game is," he said. "I don't know what happened or why it happened, but it happened. It's just part of the game. It bothered me a little while, but you can't hold grudges in this game."
Pentland said he didn't "invent the wheel" with Kemp, but he noticed something mental and something physical when they reunited.
"Huge frustration more than anything else," he said. "And he was dropping his hands. He's always done that somewhat, but to me, more than it needed to be. He's still a little rusty. He needs to play games, recognize pitches and he'll do fine. Will he hit a lot of home runs? I can't answer that. I told him it will be a little while, but it will come back."
Kemp's MVP-runner-up season, when he hit .324 with 39 homers and 126 RBIs, came that same season Pentland was dismissed.
"I can't really explain it, but the way he says things, it just connects with me," said Kemp. "I'm not saying Mac and John don't, but Pent's been with me awhile. He's seen me good, bad, every way. Mark and them notice the same things. We're all on the same page. But Pent's been around me a long time and knows my swing."
Pentland said he was "flattered" when Kemp reached out to him.
"He's actually a very quiet person, very complicated, which is why I really like him," said Pentland. "There's a lot to Matt Kemp, a lot inside. He's always intrigued me. He has very high standards and he's not easy to work with. He has a lot of pride."
Ethier to play left in new outfield configuration
LOS ANGELES -- Andre Ethier hadn't played left field in five years, but he started there on Thursday and is likely to remain at the position in the Dodgers' new outfield alignment.
Matt Kemp, fresh of the disabled list, will remain in center with rookie Yasiel Puig in right. That will be how the Dodgers typically play the outfield until Carl Crawford returns from the disabled list in July.
"This is more of the look I kind of picture," said manager Don Mattingly.
Ethier last appeared in left in 2008, when he played 41 games at the position. Since then, he's primarily played right and center for the Dodgers. This is the first time in Ethier's career that he's played all three positions in the outfield in the same season.
"I'm sure he'll not be totally comfortable, but I think Dre has shown us true versatility," Mattingly said. "He's shown us that he can get good jumps in center, which tells us he can play anywhere."
The Dodgers want to keep Puig in right because he has the strongest arm of any outfielder on the club. The rookie sensation has three outfield assists in his first 22 games.
"He really profiles there with the arm and everything," Mattingly said.
Hoping to avoid surgery, Beckett begins throwing
LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett has begun a throwing program one month after being shut down with thoracic outlet syndrome, a pinched nerve that causes numbness and tingling in his pitching hand.
Beckett is trying to avoid surgery for the condition, which he has dealt with since Spring Training.
Beckett also missed time last year with Boston for shoulder inflammation, but it isn't clear if the two conditions are related.
The Dodgers acquired Beckett last year in the blockbuster with Boston that also brought Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto and Carl Crawford to Los Angeles. Beckett went 2-3 with a 2.97 ERA for the Dodgers last year, but was 0-5 with a 5.19 ERA this year when put on the disabled list on May 14.
• Scott Van Slyke continued his Minor League rehab assignment with Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga on Thursday and went 2-for-3 with two walks and two runs scored as a designated hitter. The Dodgers are expected to activate the outfielder either Friday or Saturday. Van Slyke has been on the disabled list since June 11 with left shoulder bursitis.
• Hanley Ramirez was held out of the lineup on Thursday after playing nine games at shortstop in the past eight days. Ramirez has a nine-game hitting streak, but is three weeks removed from a left hamstring issue.
"I don't want to do it, but I felt like I needed to do it," said manager Don Mattingly. "He's feeling good and I just want to keep it that way. I'm being a little bit careful with him. We want to keep him healthy. Hopefully he will be able to play the rest of the series."
Ramirez is available off the bench for Thursday's series opener against the Phillies, the manager said.
• Left fielder Carl Crawford, on the disabled list since June 2 with a strained left hamstring, has progressed to running curves and continues to rehab in Arizona at the Dodgers' Spring Training facility at Camelback Ranch-Glendale.
"He's getting closer to going out on a rehab assignment," said Mattingly. "We're moving in the right direction."
• Left-hander Ted Lilly threw a bullpen session on Thursday and could begin a Minor League rehab assignment this weekend.
"He's probably getting close to going out and pitching, if everything goes good," Mattingly said.
• The Dodgers hosted the UCLA baseball team on Thursday. The Bruins won the College World Series on Tuesday. The players and coaches watched batting practice from the field and were honored before the game.
UCLA has a rich baseball tradition and 10 former Bruins have played for the Dodgers, including Jackie Robinson, Eric Karros, Todd Zeile, Tim Leary, Glenn Mickens, Dave Roberts, Ron Roenicke, Matt Young, Gail Hopkins and Adam Melhuse.
• Dodger broadcaster Charley Steiner will be inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame on Nov. 9, as a member of the Class of 2013.
Steiner, a four-time Emmy winner, is in his ninth season as the play-by-play announcer for the Dodgers, calling all the games for the club on AM 570 Fox Sports L.A.