Dodgers outfielder Juan Pierre's streak of 443 consecutive games -- tops among active players -- unexpectedly appears at risk as manager Joe Torre threatens to make good on the unthinkable promise he made last month to upstart youngster Andre Ethier -- that Ethier can play his way into the starting left field job this spring.
Ethier -- who has hit .294 with 26 home runs in limited play over the past two seasons -- leads the Dodgers with a torrid .345 mark and five homers this spring -- compared to a mere .200 average for Pierre. Matt Kemp, who is virtually assured of starting in right field, is hitting .305 with three homers.
What once had been behind-the-scenes grumbling about Pierre's $44 million, five-year contract has turned to open hostility as a cry goes out from fandom that Ethier must be awarded the job.
Speculation reached a fever pitch as Torre benched Pierre for a game last week, looked him over as a pinch hitter, then called him in for a closed-door meeting from which Pierre emerged with his head hanging.
Unless the front office comes to his rescue, expect Pierre to receive the news Monday that he has become one of the highest paid reserves in baseball. Though Pierre still figures to receive significant playing time throughout the season, if Torre benches him it would mark a considerable comedown for the man who led the league with 668 at-bats in 2003, 678 in 2004 and 699 in 2006.