Bunts are down, Andre Ethier is batting second, and the two are not related.

The Dodgers, once the undisputed major-league leaders in bunting, have fallen to second — 71 to the Milwaukee Brewers’ 73 –in successful sacrifices. Don’t take your eye off this race.

In what appeared to be an attempt to correct this disturbing trend, several Dodgers took part in extra bunting practice before Thursday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Dee Gordon and Shane Victorino were both on the field crouched, bat head out in front of the plate, about four hours before tonight’s game.

But only one of the two is in the lineup today, and Victorino is hitting sixth for only the seventh time this season — the first time as a Dodger. Andre Ethier is batting second for the first time since Aug. 1.

“I’ll bunt,” Ethier said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team.”

Maybe he won’t have to.

“I probably wouldn’t bunt (a baserunner) over with Andre,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.

Mattingly said the point of the Victorino/Ethier switch was more based on matchups. Ethier is 0-for-2 with a walk in his career against tonight’s starter, Lance Lynn, but leads the National League with a .330 batting average against right-handers.

“I’m just thinking about getting him more at-bats,” Mattingly said, “thinking more about trying to match up a little bit and put guys in the right position.”

In other words, don’t expect to see Ethier hitting second tomorrow against left-hander Jaime Garcia, but don’t be surprised to see a bunt or two if the Dodgers continue to struggle at the plate.

Today marks the third time in 17 games since Adrian Gonzalez’s arrival that Ethier has been penciled into one of the top five spots in the batting order.

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About J.P. Hoornstra

J.P. Hoornstra covers the Dodgers, Angels and Major League Baseball for the Orange County Register, Los Angeles Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, Torrance Daily Breeze, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Pasadena Star-News, San Bernardino Sun, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Whittier Daily News and Redlands Daily Facts. Before taking the beat in 2012, J.P. covered the NHL for four years. UCLA gave him a degree once upon a time; when he graduated on schedule, he missed getting Arnold Schwarzenegger's autograph on his diploma by five months.