Some of Andre Ethier's fondest childhood memories are of days when Ethier would be picked up early by his father from his middle school in Phoenix. They would head to the Seattle Mariners' spring-training complex where he could spend hours studying every move of his favorite player Ken Griffey Jr.

"That's who I looked up to" Ethier said. "That's all I wanted to be. I always wanted to be a center fielder in the big leagues."

Eight years into his major league career Ethier is finally living out his dream the way he envisioned it on those afternoons at the Peoria Sports Complex. Exclusively a corner outfielder until this season Ethier has replaced the sidelined Matt Kemp as the Dodgers' center fielder — and thrived.

First base coach Davey Lopes who doubles as the team's outfield instructor has given Ethier the nickname "Junior" which was how his hero was affectionately called.

"No one's complaining about the job he's done" Lopes said. "We're all pleasantly surprised. If we have to go this route the remainder of the season we don't feel it's something we have to plug up because he's done a fine job."

So much so that some team officials think Ethier's play in center field has been superior to that of the more athletic Kemp who won Gold Gloves in 2009 and 2011. Manager Don Mattingly recently hinted that Ethier could remain the Dodgers' primary center fielder even after Kemp returns from the disabled list this month.

"It's hard to do anything with 'Dre right now" Mattingly said.

Ethier was moved to center field to keep his bat in the lineup. Although Ethier was slumping offensively — he was batting .253 when he made his first start at his new position May 30 — his track record indicated he was one of the team's better hitters. Rookie Yasiel Puig was settling in as the team's right fielder. Mattingly had no intention of playing Carl Crawford anywhere other than left.

Before this season Ethier played center field in only one regular-season game. He also played it in the 2010 All-Star game when the National League didn't have a natural center fielder among the starters. The last time he was a regular center fielder was at Arizona State.