Irregular schedule, short winter means the Dodgers will limit Clayton Kershaw early in 2014.

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw has thrown 236, 227 2/3 and 233 1/3 innings the last three seasons, respectively . (Getty Images)

Clayton Kershaw can stay on regular rest and pitch the Dodgers’ first game of the season (March 22 in Australia), their first regular-season North American game, (March 30 in San Diego) and their home opener (April 4 against San Francisco).

It’s a nice luxury to have, but Don Mattingly was quick to point out the drawbacks of that plan Sunday.

“I feel like it is” pushing it, Mattingly said. “I think we all kind of are cautious about that. ‘Hey, yeah, let’s do that, that sounds really good’ — I don’t think anybody looks that and goes, ‘that sounds really good.’ It’s, ‘we’ve got to be careful about what we’re doing.’

“We have off-days early. We want to take advantage of them.”

Kershaw has thrown 236, 227 2/3 and 233 1/3 innings the last three seasons, respectively. Mattingly didn’t say there will be a specific limit on Kershaw’s innings or pitches in 2014, but the manager said he’s “mindful” of Kershaw’s workload coming off a shorter off-season than usual.

Kershaw pitched final game of 2013 (Game 6 of the National League Championship series in St. Louis) on Oct. 19. The possibility of Kershaw going five months between starts from one season to the next — in games that count, at least — will weigh heavily into the season-opening rotation.

“It’s not in a sense cautious and really babying, but we have to pay attention to how many innings this guy is throwing,” Mattingly said. “We know this guy is a workhorse. He’s deep into a lot of games.”

Mattingly hinted that Kershaw might also be on a shorter leash this season in games where he struggles.

“It’s the long innings (Kershaw) worries about the most,” Mattingly said. “It’s not the number of innings, it’s the long 24-, 25-pitch innings. We’re starting to get to the point with him where you know the days it’s a battle for him all day. You saw it last year three, four times where it’s not clean; he’s having to fight the whole game. And those wear on guys. There’s other games where you throw nine innings, but it’s 10 pitches, 11 pitches an inning and he’s out there playing catch.”

Kershaw’s spring workload is being arranged for him to start on Opening Day, but for now the same is true of the Dodgers’ other starters.

The logic behind that arrangement, according to Mattingly, is that “if we get any setbacks — a guy that gets tender and has to miss a ‘pen or two — that could kick him out. We don’t know what’s going to happen.”

There’s also the potential issue of the Dodgers’ other starters not getting enough work.

“It is one of the worries of this setup,” Mattingly said. “If you go one way, this guy might not pitch for 12 days. That’s not a good thing for pitchers. That hasn’t worked very well in the past.”

Kershaw went 16-9 with a major league-leading 1.83 earned-run average in 2013 to win the National League Cy Young Award.

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About J.P. Hoornstra

J.P. Hoornstra covers the Dodgers, Angels and Major League Baseball for the 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.