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.

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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.