Daily Distractions: Why starting the season in Australia might give Don Mattingly headaches.

Don Mattingly Alan Trammell

The Dodgers’ early-season schedule has the potential to frustrate manager Don Mattingly, who isn’t above taking out his frustration on Arizona Diamondbacks coaches. (Getty Images)

So the Dodgers and Diamondbacks play two games in Australia a week before any other team begins its regular season. Does anything about this arrangement make Don Mattingly‘s job easier?

Maybe a little. If he wants to, the Dodgers manager can have reigning National League Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw start a game in Sydney, then the U.S. regular-season opener seven days later, then the Dodgers’ home opener five days after that. Again: if he wants to.

Things start to get tricky, um, everywhere else. Start with the bullpen.

“If you think about it,” Mattingly said Saturday at the Dodgers’ FanFest, “you’re going into two games in a row (in Australia), you’ve got to kind of save your relievers as you get into that. Then if you don’t use them, now it’s going to be a week or 10 days before they’re throwing in a (regular-season) game.”

As of right now, the Dodgers have exactly one game on their schedule between March 17-21, a time when many managers have the luxury of split-squad games to evaluate players pushing for the final spots on their 25-man roster. That one game is an exhibition against the Australian national team in Sydney on March 20. Two days later, the Dodgers and Diamondbacks will celebrate Opening Day.

After the Dodgers play the D-Backs on the afternoon of March 23, they get four days off to fly back to Los Angeles and re-adjust to Pacific Time. All that time off down the road has a ripple effect on players’ routines. Pitchers are hit the hardest.

“These guys are having to throw bullpens before we even get to camp,” Mattingly said. “That seems like a rush to me.”

Don’t expect the three-game Freeway Series against the Angels, on March 27-29, to have the usual look of a “final audition” for roster spots — at least as relief pitchers are concerned. Mattingly said he’ll have to manage his bullpen with an eye toward the March 30 game in San Diego that counts in the standings.

The Dodgers’ position players can’t exactly treat the Freeway Series like an exhibition, either. In a usual year, Mattingly might use those games to rest his projected starting lineup. The quirky schedule makes this year different.

“Starting the season and then not playing for another eight days always bothers me,” Mattingly said, “because once guys turn that clock on, it’s hard to get them to play an exhibition game. That’s where you start to get bad habits. You start the season then it’s like these games don’t count. Guys, they know that. They know that game, the stats don’t count. I worry about bad habits during that period of time.”

The Freeway Series games are scheduled for March 27 and 28 at Dodger Stadium and March 29 at Angel Stadium.

Some bullet points for a Four Chaplains Day:
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Postgame: Dodgers 9, Giants 1

The Dodgers beat the Giants 9-1 tonight in San Francisco. For a full recap and boxscore click here.

THE BARE ESSENTIALS:

Randy Wolf was dominant in eight innings of work, allowing just one run on three hits and a walk. He got his sixth win of the year and lowered his ERA to 3.43.

Manny Ramirez was truly a formidable force in the Dodger lineup, going 2-for-3 with a double, a homer, and 3 RBI, as well as two intentional walks. No. 3 hitter Andre Ethier went 3-for-5.

The runs for the Dodgers came in bunches — four in the fifth and five in the seventh. Ethier led off the scoring with a fifth-inning two-run double, and Matt Kemp capped it with a three-run homer in the seventh.

ETC…ETC:

Juan Castro made the start for the injured Orlando Hudson. Hudson’s likely to miss tomorrow’s series capper but is listed as day-to-day.

Jeff Weaver was announced as the starter for tomorrow’s game, replacing ace Chad Billingsley, who’s out with a hamstring strain. Weaver has posted a 2-1 record and 3.47 ERA in five starts so far this season while working primarily out of the bullpen.

The Giants had only one hit after the fifth inning, a single by Pablo Sandoval in the ninth. James McDonald retired the side in the ninth on just seven pitches by then getting Juan Uribe to ground into a double play and Ryan Garko to foul out.

ON DECK:

Jeff Weaver (5-4, 3.90) faces Tim Lincecum (12-3, 2.20) as the Dodgers try to sweep San Francisco.

Postgame: Braves 4, Dodgers 3

The Braves beat the Dodgers 4-3 today at Turner Field. For a full recap and boxscore click here.

THE BARE ESSENTIALS:

Randy Wolf turned in his seventh consecutive quality start but took the loss again, falling to 5-6 after allowing nine hits in his five innings of work.

The Dodgers had two leads early on, 2-1 in the fourth and 3-2 in the sixth, but failed to hold on to both.

Former Dodger Derek Lowe essentially matched Wolf, allowing three runs in six innings as well. The Braves’ bullpen shut the Blue down. Rafael Soriano blew Casey Blake, James Loney, Matt Kemp away in the ninth to get his 16th save.

ETC…ETC:

The Dodgers had only six hits as Manny Ramirez continued to struggle, going 0-for-3 to lower his average to .310 and .182 since the pinch-hit grand slam.

Left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo threw a scoreless inning. He hasn’t given up a hit in 3 2/3 innings since returning.

Reliever Ronald Belisario threw a simulated game today, and looks to be on pace to return sometime in mid-August.

ON DECK:

Chad Billingsley (10-6, 3.96) and Jair Jurrjens (9-7, 2.69) start tomorrow at 5:15 P.M. PST.

Postgame: Cardinals 6, Dodgers 1

The Cardinals beat the Dodgers in the first game of a four-game set in St. Louis, 6-1. For a full recap and boxscore click here.

THE BARE ESSENTIALS:

Randy Wolf threw his sixth consecutive solid start, throwing six innings and giving up two runs, but took the loss to fall to 5-5. By comparison, Wolf made 18 starts in 2007 with a 4.73 ERA and was 9-6. This season, he’s made 22 starts with a 3.43 ERA.

The Dodgers had at least one hit in every inning and 11 in all, but could muster only one run. The Cardinals also had 11 hits but produced big hits, going 3-for-8 with RISP.

Chris Carpenter, operating almost strictly in the high 80′s with his fastball, threw seven strong innings, although he allowed 11 baserunners. Carpenter is a good example of a starter getting older and losing MPH on his fastball but still being effective — although Carpenter is younger and has a bit more left in his fastball than the Dodgers’ Jason Schmidt.

ETC…ETC:

Every hitter in the Dodgers lineup had at least one hit. Rafael Furcal went 3-for-4 with the lone RBI, raising his average to .263.

Manny Ramirez struggled, going 1-for-5, grounding into two double plays and striking out once. He left 5 men on base.

Left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo made his first appearance since April 29 tonight, throwing a scoreless inning.

Jeff Weaver was fined an undisclosed amount today by MLB for hitting Hanley Ramirez with a pitch in the sixth inning of Sunday’s loss to the Marlins.

ON DECK:

Chad Billingsley (10-5, 3.72) and Adam Wainwright (11-6, 2.95) start tomorrow at 5:15 P.M. PST.

Postgame: Dodgers 7, Brewers 4

The Dodgers beat the Brewers 7-4 today in the finale of the first half of the season. For a full recap and boxscore click here.

THE BARE ESSENTIALS:

Dodger starter Clayton Kershaw continued his utter dominance of late, going 6+ strong innings and allowing only two hits and one run. Hiroki Kuroda came in in relief and allowed three runs of his own and Kershaw’s run. Unbelievably, Kershaw now has the best ERA on the staff and the 18th best in the majors at 3.16.

Matt Kemp had his first hitless game since July 1 — striking out twice and leaving 5 men on in four at-bats — but Orlando Hudson picked up the slack, hitting two solo homers.

The Dodgers’ offensive effort off of a solid starter in Milwaukee’s Yovani Gallardo was impressive: six hits and four walks in five innings. They scored five times off of him.

Manny is the same old Manny, in case you were wondering. 3-for-3 and a walk puts him at a .308/.400/.654 clip since he came back.

ETC…ETC:

Brad Ausmus went deep for his first homer of the season. That makes the Dodgers’ season total of home runs from behind the plate three.

James Loney was solid, hitting two base knocks to drive in runs. He’s two behind Andre Ethier for the team lead in RBI with 54. Casey Blake has 55 as well.

James McDonald and Ramon Troncoso pitched well in relief, going 1 2/3 scoreless.

ON DECK:

The Dodgers will take a three-day break before hosting Houston for a four-game set beginning Thursday. Randy Wolf is scheduled to make the start.

Morning briefing

The Dodgers fell 5-4 last night, with Andre Ethier (0-for-5, 8 LOB) going down as the main culprit. Randy Wolf vs. Livan Hernandez tonight at 4:10, but first, let’s recap some of the day’s blue-related news.

A year ago today: Derek Lowe took a perfect game into the seventh inning before giving up a single, and eventually, a solo home run but still earning the 2-1 victory over Atlanta. The Dodgers’ record entering play that day? 44-46.

Ronald Belisario is okay, relatively. Dr. Neil ElAttrache found no structural damage in the 26-year-old’s right elbow in a Wednesday MRI, but the rookie reliever has been placed on the DL in what appears to be primarily a precautionary measure. Belisario missed the entire 2005 and 2006 seasons due to Tommy John surgery.

There are less than 10 hours left to vote for Matt Kemp in MLB’s Final Vote 2009 campaign.

Lastly: yes, Daniel Murphy really did make that play last night.

Postgame: Padres 7, Dodgers 4

The San Diego Padres beat the Dodgers 7-4 today at Petco Park. For a full recap and boxscore click here.

THE BARE ESSENTIALS

- Manny Ramirez went 1-for-3 with a home run in his second game back. He was again lifted for Juan Pierre in the sixth inning.

- Casey Blake a had a bit of a slump-busting performance, going 2-for-4.

- Three errors and unusually spotty relief were the Dodgers’ undoing today, as both Ronald Belisario and Ramon Troncoso allowed three runs. All of Troncoso’s were unearned, though.

- Randy Wolf got…another no-decision. He went six strong innings, allowing only four hits and one run.

ETC…ETC

- The Dodgers mounted a bit of a rally in the top of the eighth to trail by only one, 4-3, but Troncoso couldn’t do the job in the bottom of the inning. The Blue put together another run in the ninth, but it wasn’t enough. Padres closer Heath Bell got the five-out save.

- The top three of the Padres’ order — Everth Cabrera, David Eckstein, and Adrian Gonzalez — combined for six of the team’s 10 hits.

- Orlando Hudson got the day off today. Joe Torre said he might not play tomorrow either.

ON DECK

- The Dodgers will try to win the series tomorrow at 1:05 p.m. Chad Billingsley (9-4, 3.12) and Josh Banks (1-0, 3.38) face off.

6/18: A’s at Dodgers

Randy Wolf will start tonight for the Dodgers despite the news that he has been suffering from a persistent cough for the last six weeks. He underwent tests yesterday. Obviously, the cough hasn’t been affecting his performance too much, as the 32-year-old lefthander has recorded a 3.41 ERA — which would be his second-best effort of his career over a full season — thus far.

Vin Mazzaro will be making his fourth career start for the A’s; his first three resulted in a 2-1 record and 1.37 ERA. From what I’ve read about him, he’s a young sinkerballer with a developing plus-curveball. He pitches to contact, and if his control is on, he is a real innings-eater.

Russell Martin announced today that he will be donating $600,00 over the next 10 years to the One Drop Foundation in an effort to provide higher access to clean water among the poor. Martin will also serve as the foundation’s spokesman. Check out the foundation’s site here. It’s in French, by the way.

Dodgers
Pierre, LF
Furcal, SS
Hudson, 2B
Blake, 3B
Ethier, RF
Kemp, CF
Loney, 1B
Martin, C
Wolf, P

Athletics
Kennedy, 2B
Suzuki, C
Cust, RF
Holliday, LF
Giambi, 1B
Cabrera, SS
Crosby, 3B
Davis, CF
Mazzaro, P