Daily Distractions: After a long dry spell, Dodgers catchers are starting to hit.

Tim Federowicz

Tim Federowicz is batting .108 since being recalled from Triple-A Albuquerque. (Keith Birmingham/Staff photographer)

A.J. Ellis won’t be catching Clayton Kershaw‘s rehabilitation start Friday in Rancho Cucamonga.

The fact that this was even a possibility, 15 days after the catcher had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, is a bit mind-boggling. Ellis has been taking batting practice regularly, caught Kershaw’s bullpen session Tuesday, and is running on an Alter-G anti-gravity treadmill — the same one that got Matt Kemp in shape during spring training.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said that the initial 4-6 week timetable is still in play for Ellis, but that could change soon enough.

In the meantime, a couple trends have emerged. Drew Butera has caught three of Zack Greinke‘s last four starts. The term “personal catcher” hasn’t entered the discussion yet, but the two have had high praise for each other and Mattingly might choose to keep them paired together, even after Ellis returns.

Tim Federowicz has caught 10 games to Butera’s six since Ellis went down, and has just four hits in 37 at-bats. Two of those hits have come since Paul Goldschmidt whacked him in the left hand over the weekend.

“Each day is getting better,” Federowicz said Wednesday. “Right now I’m really focused on my defense. Offense will come. I’m not worried about it.”

Can fans be so patient?

In spite of the fact that the two healthy catchers have a modest three-game hitting streak, Federowicz and Butera are still batting a combined .145 (8 for 55) since Ellis had his surgery. For his part, Ellis was batting just .167 (4 for 24) before going on the DL.

The Dodgers might have bigger problems than this one, so it’s flown a bit under the radar. Just don’t expect to see any catchers batting higher than eighth unless one, at last, catches fire.

Some bullet points for a World Lab Animal Day:
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Daily Distractions: Philadelphia Phillies offer a visit from the Dodgers’ past and hypothetical present.

Tony Gwynn Jr.

Tony Gwynn Jr. batted .245 in 239 games with the Dodgers from 2011-12. (Getty Images)

When the Dodgers host the Philadelphia Phillies in a four-game series this week, the past and the hypothetical present converge.

Tony Gwynn Jr. played 239 games for the Dodgers from 2011-12. By one metric, he was the team’s best defensive outfielder during that time. Gwynn was a serviceable hitter until somewhere around June 2012; he batted .180 after June 1 of that year. Gwynn gave way to Shane Victorino, then Carl Crawford, and wound up spending all of 2013 in Triple-A.

Gwynn signed with Philadelphia last November (for a modest $900,000) and made the Phillies’ Opening Day roster. Gwynn doesn’t start against left-handed pitchers, so we might not see him in the series until Zack Greinke starts Wednesday. The platoon seems to be working; Gwynn is batting .292 this season.
The success might also stem from his jersey number. After going his own way since he broke into the majors in 2006, Gwynn is wearing his father’s number 19 for the first time in his career.

So about that “hypothetical present.”

The Dodgers were rumored to be interested in their opponent today, Cliff Lee, at the 2012 trade deadline. They traded for Joe Blanton instead and missed the playoffs. Last year Lee went 14-8 with a 2.87 ERA and made the National League All-Star team. Sounds like a missed opportunity.

Then again, given the Phillies’ reluctance to trade any of their high-priced, high-risk veterans (Lee, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley), it’s no surprise that Lee is still in Philadelphia. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has shown no intention of rebuilding his aging roster. Lee might be no less untouchable today than he was in the summer of 2012. His team, meanwhile, is 8-10 in the young season.

Lee, 35, is owed a total of $50 million between this year and next. The Dodgers opted to put that money toward signing Greinke instead and dealt their expendable prospects to Boston for Adrian Gonzalez, Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto.

To think: Maybe if Lee became a Dodger, the Punto Era might never have existed.

Hypotheticals are fun.

Some bullet points for a Grounation Day:
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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.

Arizona Diamondbacks 9, Dodgers 2: D-Backs’ ‘B’ team batters Dodgers.

The sticker shock of the quality of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ lineup quickly wore off, then reversed course.

With a lineup slim on quality major-league talent — Didi Gregorius batted third and Mike Jacobs, who’s played 20 major-league games since 2009, hit cleanup — the Diamondbacks scored nine runs in six innings en route to a win in their last meeting with the Dodgers before Opening Day.

Zack Greinke allowed three runs, Zach Lee allowed four (three were earned) and Chris Perez allowed two runs in two-thirds of an inning out of the bullpen. J.P. Howell, Chris Withrow, Kenley Jansen and minor-leaguer Romulo Sanchez combined to throw 3 ⅔ scoreless innings of relief.

A two-run double by Andre Ethier off Arizona right-hander Mike Lee accounted for the Dodgers’ scoring.

Dodgers’ Zack Greinke throws two innings, ‘still a ways to go’ before he’s ready for a real game.

Zack GreinkeZack Greinke‘s right calf is not at full strength and his arm is in its typical early-spring shape. That is, poor.

His honesty is in midseason form, and the 30-year-old pitcher reserved the most brutal of his honesty Wednesday for simulated games. He doesn’t like them.

“Those are awful,” Greinke said. “It’s not the same. You make a mistake, they miss those. You make a mistake in the game, they hit those harder.”
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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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Nick Punto, Billy Burns in the house for first A’s-Dodgers Cactus League meeting of 2014.

Nick Punto

Nick Punto’s contract with the A’s nearly doubled his $1.5 million salary from 2013. (Getty Images)


The first Cactus League meeting between the Dodgers and Oakland A’s contains a few interesting subplots (none of which have anything do with the 1988 World Series, but if you’re feeling nostalgic it’s there for you).

Nick Punto is starting at shortstop for the A’s. The 36-year-old utilityman batted .255/.328/.327 last year in 335 plate appearances (116 games) for the Dodgers.

Punto turned that into a one-year deal with an option for a second year that guarantees $3 million. He is the A’s ninth-highest paid player. The Dodgers’ ninth-highest paid players this year are Dan Haren and Brian Wilson ($10 million each).

Dee Gordon gets the start at second base and leads off for the Dodgers. Billy Burns is leading off for the A’s. Gordon and Burns rank 1-2 among all spring training players in stolen bases. Gordon is 8-for-8 and Burns, who finished last season with the Washington Nationals’ Double-A affiliate, is 7-for-9.

Gordon is batting .208/.296/.375 in 12 spring games.

Zack Greinke threw a bullpen session this morning with Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis two days after a two-inning simulated game.

Here are both lineups for the game at Camelback Ranch:
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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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Zach Lee, Dodgers square off against Texas Rangers.

The Dodgers have a chance to achieve a rare feat by hitting a grand slam in their third straight game today when the Texas Rangers visit Camelback Ranch.

Alex Guerrero hit one against the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday night. Scott Van Slyke hit a grand slam in Thursday’s 4-4 tie against the Angels.

Starter Zach Lee will be limited to about 30 pitches, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. Hopefully that gets him through at least one inning. If not, at least the Dodgers have plenty of reinforcements lined up in the bullpen.

Brian Wilson, Kenley Jansen, J.P. Howell, Chris Perez and Brandon League are all scheduled to throw. Tom Windle, the Dodgers’ second-round pick in the 2013 draft, is also in uniform along with fellow minor-league call-up Fu-Te Ni.

Windle (like 2013 first-round pick Chris Anderson yesterday) will be facing live opponents for the first time. The Dodgers minor-leaguers had an exhibition game against France. Otherwise, they have only seen live batters in batting practice and intrasquad contests.

Before the game, Mattingly said that Zack Greinke is scheduled to face live hitters tomorrow, likely on a minor-league field.

Chone Figgins will play right field, his seventh position of the Cactus League season.

We’ll be keeping an eye out for highly touted Rangers prospect Rougned Odor. He’s in uniform for the game (#73).

Here are the lineups for both teams:
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Daily Distractions: Dodgers won’t say when Matt Kemp will play in a game.


GLENDALE, Ariz. — Somewhere, the AlterG treadmill that served as Matt Kemp‘s exercise lifeline for weeks is collecting dust. Kemp is out in the open, where he should be, taking batting practice and running on a baseball field.

Tuesday, he was cleared to run a curved path with Dodgers first-base coach Davey Lopes watching. Since he was first cleared to run on Saturday, he had only been running straight lines.

His swing (above) looks normal. His body, chiseled from an off-season spent doing upper body work in the gym, looks better than normal. The only question is, when will Kemp be able to start playing games?

“Part of the plan is not to have a timetable,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said Tuesday, “as far as throwing a date out there, so you guys can say ‘April 1,’ then we get to April 1 and he’s not quite ready so now he’s off schedule. If something happened he had ‘a setback.’

“The more he does, the more he steps forward, continues to do more without having setbacks, the more he continues to do and that tells us where we’re at.”

Kemp has said repeatedly that he won’t rush himself back. Playing in the Dodgers’ season-opening series against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Sydney, Australia is out. The first game on North American soil, March 30 against the Padres in San Diego, hasn’t been ruled out.

That’s the good news. It’s also all the news.

“Stan (Conte, the Dodgers’ head athletic trainer) has characterized it as kind of like the fifth stage of a seven-stage rehab,” Mattingly said. “So (Kemp) is getting there. We’re confident that he’s going in the right direction. I don’t think anyone wants to put pressure on Matt to say ‘this is the date’ because then it’s an artificial timetable. Then if he’s not ready he starts to feel like he’s behind schedule.”

Some bullet points for a Holy Experiment Day:
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