Andre Ethier takes ground balls at first base.

MILWAUKEE — The Dodgers’ team plane touched down in Milwaukee around 6:30 a.m. this morning. As a result, players did not hit on the field at Miller Park or go through the usual pregame routine fielding drills.

The only players on the field were middle infielders Miguel Rojas, Dee Gordon, Justin Turner and a new first baseman — Andre Ethier.

With Dodgers manager Don Mattingly watching, Ethier fielded ground balls and took throws at first base for about 15 minutes. Click here to see the video.

Ethier has played one inning at first base in his career, during a fairly meaningless August 2010 game against the San Diego Padres. Lately, it’s been hard for Ethier to get on the field in any capacity. He’s seen time at all three outfield positions in August, but since Yasiel Puig took over as the Dodgers’ starting center fielder, Ethier has only 13 plate appearances. The lack of regular at-bats hasn’t helped Ethier to get his lost season untracked; his 2-for-4 game Wednesday in Anaheim gave Ethier his first hits since July 22.

So it’s not hard to see why Mattingly would try to get Ethier comfortable at a fourth position. Even if Adrian Gonzalez is entrenched as the starter and Scott Van Slyke is the primary backup.

With Yasiel Puig injured, Matt Kemp makes his first start in right field since 2009.

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp will make his first start in right field today since October 2009. (Associated Press photo)

PITTSBURGH >> Matt Kemp will make his 132nd career start in right field today. That’s quite a few starts, longer than many careers. By some advanced measures (namely, BIS Defensive Runs Saved Above Average), right field is Kemp’s best defensive position.

But his last start there was October 3, 2009. Kemp’s preparation for his latest position shift consists of shagging fly balls prior to today’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Without explicitly saying he had lowered expectations for Kemp in the field, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly lowered the expectations for Kemp in the field Monday.

“We really do make a big deal out of this and you know what? We don’t ask him to be perfect. We ask him to do his best,” Mattingly said. “If it’s not perfect, it’s not necessarily his fault.”
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Hanley Ramirez, Andre Ethier rest with injuries.

Scott Van Slyke is in center field and Miguel Rojas is starting at shortstop against rookie right-hander Jesse Hahn when the Dodgers host the San Diego Padres tonight at Dodger Stadium.

Though manager Don Mattingly isn’t exactly hoping this becomes a trend, it might be too late. Van Slyke has started three of the last five games in center field over Andre Ethier, and four of the last eight. Typically the starter against a left-handed opponent, Van Slyke is starting for the second straight night against a righty.

“In general Dre just seems like he doesn’t have the same energy. He hasn’t felt good body-wise,” Mattingly said. “There’s lots of little things. One thing usually is the building block to another and to compensate, you’ve got another issue. It’s really just trying to get that stuff kind of resolved.”

As for shortstop Hanley Ramirez, he’s started only one of the last five games at shortstop because of inflammation in the A/C joint in his right shoulder. He’s only played one complete game at shortstop since June 16 — he was the Dodgers’ designated hitter once in Kansas City and twice in Detroit in the meantime.

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Carl Crawford leaves Dodgers’ game against Cincinnati with a sprained left ankle. Update.

Carl Crawford

Carl Crawford limps off the field after suffering a sprained left ankle in the eighth inning of the Dodgers’ 6-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday. (Getty Images)

Carl Crawford sprained his left ankle in the eighth inning of the Dodgers’ game against the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night. The 32-year-old rolled the ankle on the turf while fielding Chris Heisey‘s double into the left-field corner. He had to be helped off the field by head athletic trainer Stan Conte and was replaced by Scott Van Slyke.

A picture of Crawford’s ankle as the injury occurred can be found here.

Update (11:15 p.m.): Crawford said he will be placed on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday.

“I think it’s going to take a while,” he said.

The injury is severe enough that Crawford entered the Dodgers’ clubhouse after the game in a wheelchair. He then limped into the showers and came back to his locker wearing a protective boot.
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Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis: “It didn’t feel like Opening Day,” and other Game 1 observations.

SYDNEY — If we were to focus just on the baseball, Opening Day followed a very predictable script. Clayton Kershaw was the best pitcher in the ballpark. The Dodgers’ bullpen followed a predictable order of Chris Perez (⅓ of an inning), Brian Wilson (1 inning) and Kenley Jansen (1 inning) in closing out the game without allowing a run. Paul Goldschmidt didn’t waste a single at-bat but the Dodgers have a deeper lineup, and found a way to score more runs than their opponent. The final score was 3-1 and you can read about the game here.

Also, if we were to focus just on the baseball, we would completely miss the point of staging Opening Day on another continent 12,000 kilometers — about 7,500 miles, if this conversion app is working right — away from Los Angeles.

“No, it didn’t feel like Opening Day,” Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. “It felt like a game that we’re playing here trying to bring baseball to Australia. We knew this game counted, and this game could be a difference between us making and not making the playoffs. We had that passion and that energy behind the game. There was a different attitude today in the clubhouse, a different attitude in batting practice. As far as feeling like Opening Day, I can’t honestly say in my experience it totally was like Opening Day.”

Ellis is unique among the Dodger players. He came to Sydney in November of last year, along with Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Patrick Corbin, on a goodwill tour to drum up interest in the two season-opening games in Sydney. It’s fair to say he was more personally invested in the non-baseball aspects of the game than his teammates. Attendance fell short of a sellout by little more than 4,000 fans.

About those fans. As I warned, they weren’t the savviest bunch. They cheered loudly at the sight of the game’s first foul ball, a rare souvenir that means something completely different in baseball than cricket. Thrice a batter fouled a ball atop the roof overhanging the seats behind home plate. On one occasion, the ball remained lodged on the roof; the other two times it fell back toward the waiting hands of the crowd.

When Scott Van Slyke hit the first and only home run of the game — of the season, no less — it landed into a near-empty section of seats just beyond the right-field fence. There were two empty swaths of seats in the outfield, a virtual impossibility in the U.S.

Here, the home run elicited less a reaction than the first foul ball.

“Toronto was like that when we first started going there,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said, “but it didn’t take long.”

A few more notes and observations:
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Dodgers 7, Royals 5: Minor leaguers clobber the Kansas City bullpen, Van Slyke homers, Haren pleased with results.

Scott Van Slyke

Scott Van Slyke hit a home run that cleared the 400-foot marker in center field at Surprise Stadium on Tuesday. (Getty Images)

SURPRISE, Ariz. — There’s a good reason not to take spring training statistics seriously, a reason that was on full display Tuesday at Surprise Stadium.

Louis Coleman made 27 appearances out of the Kansas City Royals’ bullpen last year. He allowed just two runs, posting a puny 0.61 earned-run average for the season. The right-hander has 117 career appearances and has only once allowed more than three runs to score in a single inning.

But in the ninth inning against the Dodgers, Coleman was pulverized by several players who have never made a major-league at-bat. Alex Guerrero hit a triple off the top of the center-field fence, roughly 400 feet from home plate. Joc Pederson walked and Noel Cuevas (surprise!) followed with a three-run home run. Aaron Bates (who has 11 career major-league at-bats) and Trayvon Robinson singled. The inning ended on a diving catch of a Mike Baxter line drive to right field.

That’s how the Dodgers (5-6-4) rallied from their second deficit of the game to beat the Kansas City Royals 7-5.

Scott Van Slyke hit a two-run home run to deep center field in the eighth inning, his second Cactus League home run. In another spring anomaly, Dodgers right-hander Javy Guerra was the winning pitcher in his worst outing of the year. He allowed two runs (one earned) in the eighth inning, as well as two hits and a walk.

Dodgers starter Dan Haren allowed seven hits, all singles. Haren issued a walk, he said, on an experimental cut fastball that missed the corner to Lorenzo Cain. It was one of 11 walks in the game.

“He’s down and still under control,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of Haren. “Looks like he’s controlling the strike zone for the most part. The guy was fairly tight behind the plate, we thought, but both ways. He was consistent, but a lot of those balls were good throws that were down in the zone, just not getting them.”

Haren was pleased with the results, too.

“Last year, beginning of the year, I was haunted by the home run, just leaving too many balls up out over the plate,” he said. “Second half, I was keeping the ball down and getting results more like today — a lot of ground balls.

“It’s more of just a mindset, more of an execution thing. Making sure when I miss, I miss down in the zone like I did today. Trying to work to get ground balls and in big spots not trying to do too much. If I have to walk a guy, I walk a guy. … The split is more of a waste pitch, but last year at the end of the year, I threw any pitch in any count.”

Haren said he felt well enough to throw another inning, but is a bit more tired than usual for this point in spring. The Dodgers still haven’t decided whether or not Haren will be on the flight bound for Sydney on Sunday.

If Haren isn’t on the plane, he hopes that “maybe (I can) take an extra day or two where I can back off a little bit because I’ve pushed it hard to this point.”

The box score is here. Some more notes and observations:

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Dodgers’ lineup takes on a normal look against the Kansas City Royals.

Dan Haren

Dan Haren will make what could be his final Cactus League start today against the Kansas City Royals. (Associated Press)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The end is near.

If Twitter’s brief, apocalyptic mid-morning shutdown (for “maintenance,” we were told) didn’t hint at the end of life as we know it, the Dodgers’ schedule does — at least for those of us who have been with the team in Arizona the better part of a month.

There are six days and seven games left on the schedule beginning with today’s tilt against the Kansas City Royals in Surprise, Ariz. There’s no Andre Ethier, no Hanley Ramirez and no Dee Gordon or Alex Guerrero in the Dodgers’ lineup. Otherwise, it has a very start-to-the-regular-season kind of look.

“We want to play Dre (to play) probably the last five,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “Same with Hanley.”

Yasiel Puig is in right field and Scott Van Slyke in center, a late switch. “We just wanted to see Slyke in center as much as anything,” Mattingly said, dropping the “Van” that makes for so many good last-name puns. “It seems like the right day.”

In one of those great only-in-spring training curiosities, the Dodgers will not use a designated hitter. The Royals will.

Dan Haren is making what ought to be his final Cactus League start. More on him later.

Here are the full lineups for both teams:
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Dodgers 4, Angels 4: A Scott Van Slyke grand slam, instant replay, perfect relay all go for naught.

Scott Van Slyke

Scott Van Slyke hit a grand slam in the Dodgers’ 4-1 victory over the Angels. (Associated Press photo)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Scott Van Slyke’s grand slam in the sixth inning and an exciting play at home plate in the first highlighted the Dodgers’ 4-4 tie with the Angels before 6,457 at Tempe Diablo Stadium. The 10-inning game is the second tie this week for the Dodgers (3-4-2).

The umpiring crew used instant replay to determine that Mike Trout was indeed thrown out at home plate attempting to complete an inside-the-park home run. Angels manager Mike Scioscia had a lengthy discussion with the umpires on the field before initiating the challenge. A 72-second review confirmed the call.

With one out in the first, Trout hit a long, sinking line drive just left of center field. Yasiel Puig dove at the last second but missed. The ball rolled past Puig and all the way to the warning track, where Puig got to the ball ahead of left fielder Scott Van Slyke. His relay throw to shortstop Hanley Ramirez on the short outfield grass was perfect, and Ramirez made an accurate throw to Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis just in time to retire the speedy Trout.

The only question seemed to be whether Ellis got his glove on Trout or not, but that wasn’t the only question circulating through the Dodgers’ dugout.
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Arizona Diamondbacks 4, Dodgers 1.

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw gave up five hits and three runs in two innings in his first Cactus League start. (Getty Images)

The Dodgers are 0-1. Clayton Kershaw has a 13.50 earned-run average.

“If it wasn’t for that Kershaw guy we’d be in good shape,” manager Don Mattingly quipped.

The takeaways from the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 4-1 victory over the Dodgers at Salt River Fields on Wednesday were limited, to put it mildly.

Among the more meaningful performances, Yasiel Puig twice faced Brandon McCarthy, who will almost certainly be in the Diamondbacks’ major-league rotation if he’s healthy. Puig singled to right field in his first at-bat and doubled in his second at-bat. The latter hit gave the Dodgers their only run when Carl Crawford scored all the way from first base.

Kershaw pitched two innings, allowed five hits, three runs (all earned), walked one and struck out two. He threw 42 pitches — 26 strikes — then “faced two hitters” by throwing about 15 more pitches in the bullpen.

“I wasn’t throwing the ball where I wanted to,” he said. “There were some off-speed pitches I needed to throw better. That one to Montero I struck him out on was probably up, honestly. That one that Pollock hit, there’s just some balls that I left up. Just a lot to work on.”

Kershaw didn’t downplay his pitching line.

“I’m a results-based guy,” he said. “I want to see outs. Today left a lot to be desired.”

The Diamondbacks scored their final run in the eighth inning off Ross Stripling.

Some more postgame notes and observations:
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Daily Distractions: Revisiting Greg Maddux, on the eve of his Hall of Fame announcement.

Greg Maddux

Greg Maddux pitched 23 games, regular season and playoffs combined, during stints with the Dodgers in 2006 and 2008. (Getty Images)

For your consideration, in the category of important dates in Dodgers history: June 6 and July 31, 2006.

On June 6, the Dodgers drafted Clayton Kershaw out of high school.

On July 31, they traded for Greg Maddux.

Not a bad couple months.

Maddux won’t be a unanimous first-ballot Hall of Fame selection, but he’ll probably come close. The Hall of Fame class of 2014 will be announced Wednesday and, barring a stunning comeback by Mike Piazza (currently polling at 67.7 percent), Maddux will be the only former Dodger going into Cooperstown this year.

I talked to Dodgers president Stan Kasten about Maddux and his legacy. Kasten was president of the Atlanta Braves during Maddux’s prime, which included a run of four straight Cy Young Awards, three straight ERA titles, and no less than 15 wins every season from 1988 to 2004. Take a moment to soak all that in.

Here are a couple tidbits about Maddux’s career that won’t make my story for Thursday’s editions:

“We weren’t sure we were going to get him,” Kasten said of pursuing Maddux in free agency in 1992. “The Yankees did outbid us substantially, but he decided he didn’t really want to play in that environment. He had a really good friend on our team, Damon Berryhill, who used to catch to him in Chicago. Damon told him how great the organization and environment was in Atlanta.”

Only one thing gave Kasten any pause about signing the pitcher to a five-year, $28 million deal.

“He wasn’t the cleanest medically,” Kasten said, “but we had good doctors, doctors with opinions we trusted. They signed off on him.”

Maddux only went on the disabled list once in 23 seasons. Maybe he played through more pain than anyone realized.

Some bullet points for a St. Distaff’s Day:

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