Daily Distractions: April Dodger Pride award winners include a couple top prospects.

Corey Seager

Shortstop Corey Seager had a strong month of April at Single-A Rancho Cucamonga (Staff photo)

The end of the month is always a good time to check in on the Dodgers’ farm system, because a good month comes with an award.

The Dodger Pride Awards were created in 2008 by GM Ned Colletti to reward one pitcher and one position player at each level of the system “who play the game with a hustling, smart, aggressive style.” The players and staff on each respective club vote for the monthly awards.

Your April winners:

Albuquerque (AAA)

Pitcher: Henry Sosa posted a 1-0 record with a 2.61 ERA (9 ER/31.0 IP) in April, striking out 21 batters against seven walks in five starts. The right-hander held opposing batters to a .233 batting average (27-for-116), while allowing only one home run in the month. The 12-year professional, who made 10 starts for the Houston Astros in 2011, was signed by the Dodgers as a free agent on December 13, 2013.

Player: Joc Pederson finished April among the Pacific Coast League leaders in several offensive categories including batting average (.398, 2nd), runs (22, T-3rd), hits (39, 1st), home runs (6, T-3rd), and stolen bases (9, T-2nd). On the year, the left-handed hitting outfielder is batting .368 (50-for-136) with 11 home runs and 22 RBI, including a .418 batting average (38-for-91) against right-handed pitching. Through 36 games this season, Pederson has also tallied 15 multi-hit games, including six performances with three or more hits. He entered 2014 as the Dodgers’ No. 1 prospect according to Baseball America.  

Chattanooga (AA)

Pitcher: Tyson Brummett went 2-1 and allowed only one run in 23.0 innings spanning four April starts, leading the Southern League in ERA (0.39) and ranking sixth in opponents’ batting average (.181). On the season, the former UCLA pitcher is 3-3 with a 0.83 ERA (4 ER/43.1 IP) and has allowed one run or less in six of his seven starts for the Lookouts. With runners in scoring position this season, the right-hander has allowed only four hits (4-for-36), good for a .111 batting average. Brummett signed with the Dodgers as a free agent on February 20, 2014, after being drafted by the Phillies in the seventh round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft.

Player: Scott Schebler drove in 16 runs (T-7th, Southern League) and clubbed five homers (T-2nd, Southern League) in 25 April games. The Iowa native had a .258 batting average with six homers, four triples and 21 RBI, and has excelled in clutch situations, batting .300 (9-for-30) with runners in scoring position. The 23-year-old, a 26th-round draft pick in 2010, was the Dodgers’ 2013 Branch Rickey Minor League Player of the Year after batting .296 in 125 games for Single-A Rancho Cucamonga last season.

Rancho Cucamonga (High-A)

Pitcher: Matt Shelton went 1-1 in April with a 1.76 ERA (3 ER/15.1 IP) in eight appearances for the Quakes, limiting opponents to a .228 batting average (13-for-57) and pitching scoreless relief in seven of his eight outings. The Texas native struck out 14 batters and walked only one in April before being promoted to Chattanooga on May 1. The 25-year-old was selected in the 24th round of the 2011 draft.

Player: Corey Seager batted .294 (25-for-85) in April with 10 extra-base hits, while tallying 13 RBI in 20 games. The 20-year-old has raised his average to .333 (40-for-120) with two homers, 11 doubles, two triples and 15 RBI, batting .429 (15-for-35) with a .512 on-base percentage in nine May games. Seager entered 2014 as the Dodgers’ second-best prospect according to Baseball America.

Great Lakes (Low-A)

Pitcher: Michael Johnson posted a 1-1 record with a 1.35 ERA (2 ER/13.1 IP) and a save in eight April appearances. The right-handed reliever limited opposing hitters to a .200 batting average (10-for-50) with 19 strikeouts and five walks. On the season, the Massachusetts native has a 1.47 ERA (3 ER/18.1 IP) and 22 strikeouts in 11 appearances for the Loons. The 23-year-old, a 14th-round pick in the 2013 draft, led the Ivy League with seven wins as a senior at Dartmouth College in 2012.

PlayerJoey Curletta had a terrific April, finishing among the Midwest League leaders in batting average (.368, 2nd), runs (18, T-3rd), hits (39, 1st), doubles (9, T-3rd) and RBI (15, T-6th) in 25 games for Great Lakes. Overall, Curletta has posted a .356 batting average (52-for-146) in 35 games, second among Midwest League hitters, and has seven three-hit performances for Great Lakes. The Arizona native was selected by the Dodgers in the sixth round of the 2012 draft.

Some bullet points for a Frog Jumping Day:

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Dodgers option Pedro Baez to Double-A Chattanooga, activate Clayton Kershaw from the DL.

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw made two rehab starts before being activated from the disabled list today. (Jennifer Capuccio Maher/Staff Photographer)

The Dodgers optioned Pedro Baez to Double-A Chattanooga and activated Clayton Kershaw from the 15-day disabled list Tuesday. Kershaw will start tonight’s game against the Washington Nationals.

Baez made his major-league debut in the ninth inning of Monday night’s rain-delayed loss to the Washington Nationals. He allowed two runs to score and heads back to the minors with a career ERA of 18.00.

Kershaw hasn’t started since an Opening Day win in Sydney, Australia. He made two rehab starts following the diagnosis of a strained teres major muscle.

Yasiel Puig is sitting out for the second straight day after crashing into the wall in Miami. Adrian Gonzalez is getting his second day off of the season. Here are the lineups for both teams:
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Daily Distractions: Who are the Dodgers without Clayton Kershaw?

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw will start tomorrow against the Washington Nationals. (Associated Press photo)

Since the start of the 2009 season until a month ago, the Dodgers have had the luxury of a healthy Clayton Kershaw at all times. In terms of fWAR, Kershaw has been the National League’s best pitcher during that time period. Being healthy helps a player’s WAR and he certainly helps a team’s won-loss total.

But how much? Who are the Dodgers without their best pitcher? Until recently, that’s been hard to say.

Speaking last August about Kershaw’s credentials for the National League Most Valuable Player Award, Don Mattingly said that “as a manager you see how important (he) is every fifth day. He goes deep into games, saves your bullpen, stops losing streaks, extends winning streaks. you can’t hardly put it — it’s just big. He’s got to be considered.”

It’s been 45 days since Kershaw last pitched. In that time, their run differential is plus-9, their record is 17-14, and their bullpen is taxed. Only the Arizona Diamondbacks have gotten more innings out of their bullpen this season, and the Diamondbacks have played two more games. The Dodgers have needed more innings from their relievers on a per-game basis than any major-league team. That’s partly a function of their eight extra-inning games, which leads the major leagues.

It’s also a function of Kershaw’s absence. Last year, the burden that Kershaw took off the Dodgers’ bullpen was something Mattingly had to imagine; this year it is very real. The proof is in the numbers. While the other starters have picked up the slack (they’re 13-5 with a 3.06 ERA, sixth in MLB), the Dodger bullpen has exuded mediocrity. Their 3.79 ERA ranks 15th and they’re going unusually deep into counts against opposing batters. Only three major-league bullpens are averaging more pitches per plate appearance than the Dodgers’. Their high innings-pitched total doesn’t even tell the full story.

How much impact can Kershaw have on an entire pitching staff — an entire team? We’ll check back in another 45 days.

According to an interview Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti did with ESPN, Kershaw will be cleared to throw 100 pitches tomorrow.

“I think he looked sharper in the two rehab games,” Colletti said, “than he did in Australia.”

Kershaw allowed one run in 6 ⅔ innings in Australia.

Some bullet points for a Cinco De Mayo:
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Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw to begin rehabilitation assignment Friday in Rancho Cucamonga.

Clayton Kershaw

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw will throw approximately 55 pitches Friday in a rehab start for Single-A Rancho Cucamonga. (Associated Press photo)

Clayton Kershaw will make the first rehabilitation start of his career Friday for Single-A Rancho Cucamonga.

No timetable has been set for his return to a major-league mound, but Dodgers manager Don Mattingly confirmed that Kershaw will need at least two rehab starts total. He’s expected to throw approximately 55 pitches Friday — not much more than he threw in a three-inning simulated game Sunday at Dodger Stadium.

“He came out of the bullpen good yesterday and we feel like we’re ready,” Mattingly said. “I don’t think anyone’s going to let him go out, even throw that sim game, if we weren’t allowing him just to go pitch.”

Kershaw hasn’t any setbacks in his recovery from a strained teres major muscle in his upper left back since he first threw off a mound 10 days ago.

In case you were wondering, tickets for the game are sold out except on the secondary market (links at the right). Dodgers prospect Julio Urias, 17, is expected to pitch after Kershaw. A Brian Wilson “bobble-beard” giveaway will take place that night.

Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw will throw bullpen session Tuesday, rehab start next?

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw will throw a bullpen session Tuesday, his next step on the road to recovery from a strained muscle in his upper back.

Kershaw threw approximately 45-50 pitches in a three-inning simulated game Sunday at Dodger Stadium. He reported no pain Monday, then backed up his extremely limited self-report by playing long toss in the Dodger Stadium outfield (above). Kershaw threw from roughly the left-field foul line to teammate Dan Haren in left-center, well in excess of 100 feet.

Neither Kershaw nor Dodgers manager Don Mattingly would say what Kershaw’s next step is after Tuesday. If healthy, Kershaw figures to make a rehabilitation start soon.

Single-A Rancho Cucamonga plays three straight home games starting Friday, followed by four straight nearby in San Bernardino. Triple-A Albuquerque has 12 straight home games (with no days off) starting Monday.

Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis, who caught Kershaw’s simulated game, said he felt fine Monday. He participated in batting practice for the fourth straight day, but otherwise stayed off his feet and didn’t catch any live pitching.

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws pain-free from 75 feet.

Clayton KershawClayton Kershaw threw from 75 feet without pain Tuesday as the pitcher continues to make progress from inflammation in the teres major muscle in his back.

In terms of his throwing program, Kershaw said he’s day to day. For now he plans on throwing from 75 feet again tomorrow.

“Hopefully every day is a little bit of a progression,” he said. “It’s basically ‘if it doesn’t hurt, do it.’ ”

Kershaw said he didn’t throw at all Monday, “my first full off-day in a while.” Other than that, he’s been throwing every day since he was temporarily shut down from throwing when the inflammation was first diagnosed.

Daily Distractions: The Dodgers’ starting rotation looks good. So does every team’s.

Aaron Harang

Former Dodgers pitcher Aaron Harang, now with the Atlanta Braves, took a no-hitter into the seventh inning Wednesday. So did his opponent, Matt Garza. (Associated Press photo)

I’m going to get off the topic of my fantasy baseball team quickly, promise. Just bear with me for a second.

Something strange happened this week. The first time through my rotation, my five starters gave up a total of one run. The one run belonged to Jose Fernandez (otherwise the miscreant might be booted from my rotation).

Across the majors, in the few games that have been played, pitching has been good so far. Very good. The league-average ERA is 3.31.

To some extent, that makes sense. Pitchers’ arms are healthier now than they will be in September. Some teams have only played two games, meaning they have used only their top two starters — and seen their opponents’ top two. The best pitchers in the world, all those Opening Day starters including Clayton Kershaw, have all pitched once.

The Dodgers aren’t immune to the phenomenon. Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Greinke and Dan Haren have allowed a total of three runs in the club’s first five games. That’s encouraging. They will need more encouragement from starters five and six, Paul Maholm and Josh Beckett, while Kershaw rests his bad back. Maholm starts Saturday against the San Francisco Giants.

It’s easy to dismiss the dominance of pitchers, but we might be witnessing the makings of a trend. This season could be a down year for hitting. While they’ve pitched well, the Dodgers are collectively hitting .229. Want to guess where that ranks among the 30 teams? Fourteenth. Sixteen clubs have batted .223 or worse in the early part of the season.

Those numbers will get better, but you wonder when we’ll see the first no-hitter of the season. It might not be long. Former Dodgers pitcher Aaron Harang lost one in the seventh inning of the Braves’ 1-0 win over Milwaukee last night. So did his opponent, Matt Garza. Harang and Garza aren’t elite pitchers anymore, but they were elite Wednesday.

Let’s see if this trend continues.

Some bullet points for a Tweed Day:
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Dodgers announce that Clayton Kershaw will miss well beyond minimum 15 days with back injury.

Clayton KershawClayton Kershaw‘s stay on the disabled list will last well beyond the minimum 15 days.

The Dodgers announced that Kershaw, who is nursing inflammation in the teres major muscle of his back, consulted with team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache following an MRI scan. Kershaw will be placed on a rehabilitation schedule that includes a submaximal throwing program for the next 2 to 3 weeks. He will then be re-evaluated by Dr. ElAttrache to determine when he can start throwing at increased velocity.

The timetable on when he might return to Major League competition will be determined when he is re-evaluated in 2-3 weeks.

Earlier Tuesday, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told reporters in San Diego that Kershaw might need a rehabilitation start in the minor leagues before he can return. Now, that seems like a certainty. The minor league seasons begin Thursday, so there will be plenty of opportunities for Kershaw to pitch in a rehab game.

Kershaw has never been on the disabled list in his career. Hyun-Jin Ryu, who took Kershaw’s turn in the rotation Sunday in San Diego, is expected to start the Dodgers’ home opener Friday.

Clayton Kershaw to the disabled list, Jose Dominguez to Triple-A all but sets Dodgers’ Opening Day roster.

ANAHEIM — Clayton Kershaw played catch with Dodgers head athletic trainer Stan Conte this afternoon. Each of his throws was a little bit farther than the one before, as Kershaw moved backward until he stood about 100 feet from Conte. One throw was interrupted by a magnitude-4.1 earthquake about 14 miles north of here. The 27th throw was his last. Here’s what it looked like:

Kershaw “felt something” in his upper left back on that throw according to Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, in the same teres major muscle that showed inflammation in an MRI exam Wednesday. The pain was enough to end Kershaw’s throwing session and earn him a spot on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 23.

“At that point, we knew he couldn’t go any farther,” Mattingly said.

Kershaw, who signed a seven-year, $215 million contract extension in January, allowed one run in his Opening Day start against the Diamondbacks in Sydney, Australia. He has never been on the disabled list in his career.

The 26-year-old will be eligible to return from the DL as early as April 7. That’s an off-day for the Dodgers, who host the Detroit Tigers on April 8 and 9. Including the second of two games the Dodgers played in Australia against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Kershaw will only miss seven games.

There’s a possibility that Kershaw might be healthy enough to pitch sometime at home next weekend against the San Francisco Giants — at least, that Kershaw would try to be ready by then. But, as Mattingly said, “we have to save Clayton from Clayton.”

Can he only spend the minimum 15 days on the disabled list? Mattingly wouldn’t say.

Kershaw will take a day off from throwing Sunday, then try to resume throwing Monday when the Dodgers have an off-day workout at Petco Park in San Diego.

Hyun-Jin Ryu is expected to start the Dodgers’ home opener against the San Francisco Giants on Friday. Saturday’s start will go to either Josh Beckett — who is eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list then — or Paul Maholm.

Ryu will also start tomorrow’s game in San Diego against the Padres. Zack Greinke starts Tuesday’s game and Dan Haren starts Wednesday.

Jose Dominguez was optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque on Sunday, essentially beating Chris Withrow — another hard-throwing right-hander — for the final spot in the Dodgers’ Opening Day bullpen.

That all but solidifies the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster, barring any injuries today in their final Freeway Series game against the Angels:

Catchers (2)
A.J. Ellis
Drew Butera

Infielders (6)
Adrian Gonzalez
Dee Gordon
Hanley Ramirez
Juan Uribe
Justin Turner
Chone Figgins

Outfielders (5)
Carl Crawford
Andre Ethier
Yasiel Puig
Mike Baxter
Scott Van Slyke

Pitchers (12)
Hyun-Jin Ryu
Zack Greinke
Dan Haren
Paul Maholm
Kenley Jansen
Brian Wilson
Chris Perez
J.P. Howell
Paco Rodriguez
Chris Withrow
Jamey Wright
Brandon League

Disabled List (3)
Clayton Kershaw
Matt Kemp
Josh Beckett