San Diego Padres announce starting assignments for Dodgers’ first series in North America.

San Diego Padres manager Bud Black told reporters in Peoria, Arizona on Saturday that Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy and Tyson Ross will start in that order against the Dodgers for their season-opening series against the Dodgers at Petco Park.

Cashner will start Opening Day on Sunday, March 30, a game that will be televised nationally on ESPN. Kennedy takes the ball on Tuesday, April 1 and Ross on Wednesday, April 2.

Also Saturday, the Padres learned that starter Josh Johnson will miss at least four weeks with a strained flexor muscle. Johnson wasn’t expected to start in the first series against the Dodgers.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said yesterday that Zack Greinke and Dan Haren will start two of the three Freeway Series games against the Angels, March 27-29. That rules both pitchers out for the March 30 and April 1 starts in San Diego. Expect Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu to get those assignments, with Josh Beckett and Paul Maholm serving as outside possibilities.

Josh Beckett thrives, Matt Kemp struggles, in Dodgers’ latest minor-league spring training game.

Josh Beckett

Josh Beckett threw three shutout innings against the Chicago Cubs on March 15 before leaving with a right thumb contusion. (Associated Press photo)

Josh Beckett threw four mostly successful innings against the Cincinnati Reds’ Triple-A club at Camelback Ranch on Thursday. It was his first appearance since being pulled from a Cactus League start against the Chicago Cubs on March 15 with a contusion on his right thumb.

The right-hander allowed six hits and one earned run, walked one and struck out four. He threw 52 pitches, 39 for strikes. Beckett was said to have used his curveball well, a pitch that gave him trouble in his last start because of the thumb injury.

Playing in the same game, Matt Kemp continued his struggles at the plate as he returns from off-season ankle surgery. Kemp went 0-for-5 with 3 strikeouts. Dodgers left fielder Carl Crawford was 3-for-3 with a home run and two hard singles to left field. He played five innings in left field and was caught stealing.

Brandon League pitched in a Double-A game at home against Cincinnati and allowed one home run in 1 ⅓ innings. League threw 18 pitches, 12 for strikes, walked none and struck out none.

Chicago Cubs 5, Dodgers 4: Another Dodgers pitcher has another nagging injury.

Josh Beckett

Josh Beckett threw three shutout innings against the Chicago Cubs before leaving with a right thumb contusion. (Associated Press photo)


MESA, Ariz. — Josh Beckett was hoping for more out of his third Cactus League start than three innings and 44 pitches.

Because of a right thumb contusion that worsened as the game went on, Beckett was pulled Friday against the Chicago Cubs before reaching his four-inning, 65-pitch target. The veteran right-hander was already staying away from throwing curveballs, the pitch that gave him the most discomfort, before head athletic trainer Stan Conte and manager Don Mattingly decided to pull him altogether.

Beckett doesn’t think the injury is serious but said he’ll visit a doctor next week if needed.

“It’s frustrating but it could have happened at a worse time,” he said. “I think right now we’re dealing with it the best we can. If I need a couple days off, we’ll do that. I just don’t want to fall too far behind.”

The injury isn’t related to the right thumb ligament that bothered Beckett in Boston early in the 2012 season with Boston. That injury affected the inside of his right thumb; this one affects the outside, he said.

Eleven days ago, Beckett’s right thumb “got slammed on the outside of a door,” he said. “Somebody was opening the door and — you know how they have signs that say ‘in’ and ‘out’? Somebody came out the in.”

In spite of the injury, Beckett’s fastball and changeup were effective against the Cubs. He allowed one hit, an infield single by Emilio Bonifacio, walked two and struck out one in three scoreless innings.

Beckett and right-hander Zack Greinke have both been ruled out from making the trip next week to Sydney, Australia, leaving the Dodgers with four healthy starters — Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren and Paul Maholm — one week before the beginning of the regular season.

Fortunately, the schedule will allow the Dodgers to can get with on four starters until mid-April. Beckett shouldn’t need that long.

“It’s not getting worse but it’s not getting better,” he said. “I’m just going to evaluate, maybe see a doctor again next week.”

After Beckett and Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks were pulled with the score tied 0-0, both offenses came awake against the bullpens. Jamey Wright (four runs allowed in the sixth inning) and Javy Guerra (walk, single, RBI groundout in the fourth) allowed all the Cubs’ runs.

The Dodgers (5-9-4) clawed back to make the game close. Miguel Rojas doubled and scored on an RBI triple by Dee Gordon in the fifth inning. Alex Guerrero hit a two-run double off Jose Veras in the seventh inning. Drew Butera hit a solo home run to center field off Alberto Cabrera in the ninth inning to provide the final score.

The box score is here.

Some more notes and observations:
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Daily Distractions: Now wearing number 11 for the Dodgers, Erisbel Arruebarrena.

Dixie Walker wore number 11 for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1939 to 1947. The jersey changed hands 13 times over the next 22 years, until Manny Mota donned number 11 in 1969. It was his up until his final appearance as a 44-year-old pinch hitter in 1982, a groundout that interrupted Mota’s long tenure as the Dodgers’ hitting coach.

Mota, now 76 years old, is still wearing the uniform in camp these days in an unofficial capacity, much like the man wearing number 2, Tommy Lasorda. Pitcher Guillermo Mota (no relation) wore number 11 briefly as a Dodger in the early 2000s. The number seemed to be reserved for Motas — or at least, players with only four letters in their last name, as if the MOTA could be balanced delicately atop the two digits.

Today, this was hanging in the Dodgers’ clubhouse:

Erisbel Arruebarrena (pronounced Arr-ru-eh-BAHR-ena, as the caption indicates) recently received his U.S. work visa and arrived in camp Thursday morning.

As for the type of player we can expect to see wearing number 11, the bar is as high as a 5-year, $25 million contract.

Minor league games are likely next, writes Eric Stephen of TrueBlueLA.com.

I’m not in camp today. I’ll be attending the annual SABR Analytics Conference in downtown Phoenix, where Dodgers head athletic trainer Stan Conte is speaking on a panel discussing medical analysis and injury prevention.

Some bullet points for an National earmuff day:
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Daily Distractions: With 10 days off between games, what will the Dodgers do with their non-Sydney starters?

Zack Greinke

Zack Greinke is one of four starting pitchers in camp with guaranteed major-league contracts who might be pitching a lot of minor-league games in the coming weeks. (Associated Press photo)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Spring training games begin Sunday for the Dodgers’ minor leaguers, who have been relegated to intrasquad scrimmages and games against France to keep their competitive juices flowing.

At some point, the “baby Dodgers” will get a boost from Dan Haren, Josh Beckett, Paul Maholm and/or Zack Greinke. That would appear to be the plan for the pitchers who aren’t starting a game in Sydney, Australia — i.e., everyone not named Clayton Kershaw or Hyun-Jin Ryu.

“They’ll continue to stay on schedule,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said Tuesday. “We’re going to try to keep those guys regular as best as we can. That would be the plan: To keep them as steady as possible.”

There will be 10 days off between the Dodgers’ final Cactus League game Sunday against the Colorado Rockies and the first Freeway Series game against the Angels. That’s a lot of down time for a starting pitcher to fill. Mattingly said the non-Sydney starters will get their work in competitive situations, not bullpens, so the minor-league fields are the logical landing point.

The Dodgers must select 30 players who will be on the plane to Sydney no later than Sunday. That’s when the plane leaves. Twenty-five will be on the active roster by Opening Day. Of the remaining five, one will be a pitcher who starts the exhibition game against the Australian national team a week from Thursday. That pitcher will be one of three players who’s allowed to be on the team’s 25-man roster March 30 in San Diego, but who isn’t allowed to be on the 25-man roster for the two games in Australia.

An example of how that might work: Haren starts the Dodgers’ minor-league game Sunday on regular rest. He could then pitch against the Australian National team Thursday — remember, that’s a 7 p.m. game Sydney time, so it’s only 17 hours shy full rest. On March 25, he’s back in Arizona pitching a minor-league game. He could then get the Opening Day assignment against the Padres on March 30 and start the Dodgers’ home opener against the San Francisco Giants on April 4, both on regular rest.

That’s not necessarily the plan — just one way to do it. Substitute Haren with Beckett or Maholm, and you’ve got another plan. (You’ve also got six starters, with the question of whether Greinke begins the season on the 15-day disabled list, but that’s another matter.) These are the types of conversations taking place behind closed doors in camp right now.

“We’re talking about how we’re going to use the exemptions and the roster in a way that makes the most sense for those two games and also for all of us going forward,” Mattingly said. “Ned (Colletti, the GM) and his guys have spent a lot of time on it. We go back and forth. We’re just trying to figure out the combination of guys that we need really, to put our roster together for the season. Figure out those two games and starting in San Diego at the same time.”

I talked to Beckett and Maholm about the unusual schedule and what it means for their preseason preparation. More from them later.

Some bullet points for a World Plumbing Day:
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Updates on Zack Greinke, Matt Kemp, and lineups for the Dodgers’ two real games today.


GLENDALE, Ariz. — With Dodgers chairman Mark Walter, president Stan Kasten, chief marketing officer Lon Rosen, manager Don Mattingly, pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, and other coaches and team officials in attendance, a simulated game took place on a back field at Camelback Ranch this morning.

Unlike the two other games featuring uniformed Dodgers players today, this one didn’t count for anything. It did, however, feature Zack Greinke pitching to Matt Kemp. Kemp is in the late stages of his ankle rehabilitation — stage 6 of 7, specifically — and Greinke was facing live hitters for the first time since straining his right calf Feb. 27.

Greinke said he threw 35 pitches in the simulated game, about half to Kemp and the other half to Scott Schebler. He threw another 50 in the bullpen.

“I’m feeling healthy,” Greinke said. “I wanted to see some hitters, try to throw several different pitches. They all kind of came out pretty good. Not midseason form or anything but pretty good.”

Despite repeated prodding, Greinke wouldn’t say when or where his next outing will come. Based on his own assessment, another simulated game or a minor-league game might be in order, since Greinke’s health and repertoire are still works in progress.

Greinke got Kemp to swing and miss at a big curveball, “but he was hitting the fastball good.” The final pitch of both of Kemp’s at-bats Greinke are above.

In a couple days, Greinke thinks his calf will be healed; for now fielding ground balls off the mound remains an issue.

“I can field,” he said. “If Dee Gordon hit a ground ball to first, I wouldn’t be able to beat him to first. Right now I wouldn’t be able to get there in time. But if A.J. Ellis did I still might not, but I’d probably be able to get there in time.”

As for Kemp, he ran the bases under the watch of Dodgers head athletic trainer Stan Conte. Later, he practiced tracking fly balls in center field at less than full speed.

Paul Maholm is starting the Dodgers’ noon (PST) game against the Texas Rangers at Surprise Stadium, and Josh Beckett is starting the 6 p.m. home game against the Seattle Mariners. The latter will be televised on MLB Network for all you non-Time Warner subscribers.

Mattingly clarified one thing about Yasiel Puig‘s excused absence today: The Dodgers have known that Puig would be gone today, and returning Sunday, since the beginning of camp. Whatever his “personal issue” is — Mattingly wouldn’t say — it is not a last-minute emergency. It’s believed that Puig is not in the Phoenix area.

The Dodgers’ next two games at Camelback Ranch — tonight and tomorrow — are sold out.

Here are the lineups for both teams, both games:

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Daily Distractions: How Alex Guerrero changed the narrative at second base.

Alex Guerrero

Alex Guerrero is hitting .294 (5 for 17) in his first spring training with the Dodgers. (Associated Press photo)


GOODYEAR, Ariz. — The narrative in camp surrounding second base so far goes something like this: Alex Guerrero is a project. He didn’t play last season in Cuba, he’s still learning second base, and Triple-A might be the best place for him to get up to speed once the regular season starts. That leaves Dee Gordon as the best option on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster to be the starting second baseman Opening Day. But he hasn’t played much second base either, so Chone Figgins, Justin Turner, Brendan Harris and Miguel Rojas are all getting a long look at the position. (Buster Olney of ESPN.com picked up the Gordon vs. Figgins narrative here, while Ron Cervenka at ThinkBlueLA.com makes the case for Gordon here.)

Meanwhile, Ned Colletti ought to be working the phones, because no respectable team with a payroll in the neighborhood of $240 million ought to be entertaining notions of a platoon involving Gordon/Figgins/Turner/Harris/Rojas at second base. Jim Bowden of ESPN.com recently explored the trade possibilities. (A couple of those scenarios actually make quite a bit of sense.)

With one swing of the bat Wednesday, Guerrero changed the narrative.

His grand slam in the Dodgers’ 10-3 Cactus League victory over the Cincinnati Reds was the first extra-base hit for Guerrero in his seventh Cactus League game. That it came off a left-hander, veteran Jeff Francis, is significant. Gordon has a career .221/.267/.232 slash line against left-handed pitching, compared to .271/.316/.348 against right-handers. (Andre Ethier, by comparison: .235/.294/.351 against lefties.) The Dodgers will take that right-handed slash line from Gordon, maybe with a few walks thrown in for good measure.

The more significant development is that Guerrero, in the words of Don Mattingly, looked “more comfortable.”

“I thought in general, he just looks more fluid and smoothing out a little bit,” the manager said. “For me, early on it was really rough and stiff. It’s gotten better. With Alex, we’re just going to try to keep playing him as much as we can. We’re going to try to keep getting him at-bats.”

Is that progression typical for a player in his first spring training?

“I think it’s typical for a guy who hasn’t played in a while,” Mattingly said. “BP’s a whole lot different from games. As you get in playing every day, I think things just come back to you — more natural. As you get a little tired, you’ve been doing your work and you want things to just come out naturally. That’s what I’m looking for, to see what it’s going to look like when he gets tired taking his ground balls every day.”

If the grand slam was no fluke, and Guerrero has really settled in to the comfort level that earned him a four-year, $28 million contract, it carries an important implication. Namely, that he can be ready for the majors by Opening Day.

That doesn’t bode well for Figgins, Turner, Harris or Rojas. The sample sizes are still small and skewed, but for what it’s worth Rojas — statistically a poor Triple-A hitter in his career — has the best spring batting average of all of them at .417. None of their numbers will matter if Guerrero remains comfortable in the field and at the plate.

Some bullet points for a Day of the Dude:
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Daily Distractions: What Derek Jeter taught a 22-year-old Hanley Ramirez.

Hanley Ramirez

Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez (left) participates in the first pitcher/infield drill of spring training. He considers retiring Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter his idol. (@jphoornstra on Twitter)

Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez learned many lessons in his rookie season with the Florida Marlins. One was a lesson in leadership.

“Don’t let my teammates down. Where I go, they go,” Ramirez recalled. “I’ve got to be their leader, keep my head up and play hard. Be a leader on and off the field.”

The message came directly from no higher authority than Derek Jeter, who knows a thing or two about leadership and is “pretty close” to Jesus.

So it was that Ramirez took on a leadership role with the Marlins early in his career. He was only 22, working on an eventual Rookie of the Year campaign, when he met Jeter during a series against the Yankees in June 2006.

When the Yankees’ shortstop announced his retirement Wednesday, Ramirez wrote an unusually candid tweet:

Why is Jeter Ramirez’s idol?

“Because he has respect for the game on and off the field, and how much dedication he’s put into the games,” Ramirez said. “We’re going to miss him in the game. Nobody I think can replace him.”

And not many players can get through to Ramirez like Jeter.

Some bullet points for Valentine’s Day:
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Daily Distractions: Putting Josh Beckett’s optimism in its proper context.

Josh Beckett

Josh Beckett had a rib removed from the right side of his rib cage in July. (Associated Press)

In his first interview of the spring, Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett declared himself healthy and ready to pitch when the 2014 season begins.

Beckett’s optimism is nothing new. He was so upbeat about his recovery from thoracic outlet surgery last August that one reporter was compelled to ask if Beckett intended to pitch at some point in the postseason.

But Beckett’s optimism is like the cushioned cork at the center of a baseball. It’s surrounded by layers of yarn and cowhide and leather stitching that need to be unwound. By itself, Beckett’s healthy optimism and optimal health are great developments, but they need to put in context.

For one thing, Beckett is 33 years old. His record the past two seasons is 7-19. His early-career track record is stellar: a World Series MVP award at age 23; 80 wins and a 116 ERA+ in the span of his 25-to-29-year-old prime; an all-star appearance with Boston as recently as three years ago. But then you point to Beckett’s age, and his last two seasons, and you wonder what he’s doing in the starting rotation of a team with a $240 million-plus payroll.

Then there’s the nature of thoracic outlet surgery. It hasn’t been in baseball as long as Tommy John surgery, for example. Chris Carpenter had the procedure recently — Beckett told reporters yesterday that Carpenter’s thoracic outlet syndrome was worse than his own — as did Daniel Bard, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Shaun Marcum. That’s a short list. It doesn’t offer nearly large enough a sample size to conclude, with the same degree of certainty, how long Beckett will need to make a full recovery.

So we have Beckett’s word, his medical reports (you and I don’t, but the Dodgers do), and his track record, and not much else. Then we have a locker in the Camelback Ranch clubhouse with Paul Maholm‘s nameplate overhead, and should it really come as a surprise that the Dodgers took out a $1.5 million insurance policy in the form of a sixth starter?

Not really. And that’s not a reflection on Beckett or his health, so much as the Dodgers’ financial wherewithal. As the Dodgers learn what Beckett can do post-surgery, there’s less at stake in the final outcome of the process. Management can sit back, watch, and be happy for Beckett if he makes a full recovery. And hey, maybe you get a fifth starter at the end of camp.

How’s that for some annual start-of-spring-training optimism?

Some bullet points for a Tuesday morning:
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