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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Daily Distractions: Chad Billingsley will try to take a big step forward tomorrow.

Chad Billingsley

Dodgers pitcher Chad Billingsley will attempt to throw curveballs off a mound for the first time tomorrow. (Associated Press photo)

When the Dodgers needed to add shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena to their 40-man roster last week, they faced an important decision. Ultimately, Justin Sellers was designated for assignment to open a roster spot, but the Dodgers could easily have placed Chad Billingsley on the 60-day disabled list instead.

“We’re not prepared yet to set a timetable of 60 days for Chad,” general manager Ned Colletti said at the time.

That could change soon.

Tomorrow, Billingsley is scheduled to throw curveballs off a mound for the first time since having Tommy John surgery last April. The right-hander has been throwing curveballs off flat ground and fastballs off the mound since camp opened. However, the stress on his surgically repaired elbow — specifically, the ulnar collateral ligament that was transplanted from his left forearm — has been relatively light.

The curveball, Billingsley said Wednesday, “puts the most torque on the elbow.” At least one study has produced a different conclusion (specifically, that the fastball and curveball require the same amount of elbow torque), but the fact that he hasn’t attempted to throw the pitch with full force yet makes it a new test.

If he passes the test and emerges pain-free, Billingsley said he’ll be cleared to throw sliders. Adding the slider would give Billingsley the full arsenal he needs to face live batters in a rehab game.

In his last bullpen session Tuesday, Billingsley said his fastball topped out at 87 mph — the fastest he’s thrown the pitch since camp began. His fastball has was topping out around 95 mph prior to the surgery, but comparing games to bullpen sessions is unfair.

“When you’re throwing bullpens it’s hard to go max effort and hit a really high velocity,” Billingsley said. “You’ve got to have adrenaline, the hitter’s presence in the batter’s box.”

Billingsley recently said that, in a best-case scenario, he would be able to start a minor-league game by the end of camp.

We’ll know tomorrow whether or not that scenario is still realistic.

Some bullet points for a Rare Disease Day:
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Morning injury updates on Zack Greinke (calf), Matt Kemp (ankle), Ross Stripling (elbow).

Zack Greinke

Zack Greinke threw three pitches in his first Cactus League start on Thursday before exiting with a cramp in his right calf muscle. (Associated Press photo)

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said that Zack Greinke will receive treatment today on his strained right calf muscle and could be throwing a bullpen session as early as tomorrow.

That was a fairly optimistic outlook one day after Greinke couldn’t get through two batters in his first Cactus League start. Greinke could even play catch today, Mattingly said. He was seen walking through the clubhouse without discomfort.

“Zack actually came in pretty good today,” Mattingly said.

The news was not as upbeat for Ross Stripling, who will undergo a “contrast MRI” on his right elbow after reporting discomfort, Mattingly said. The 24-year-old informed the club that he first felt pain in the elbow “five, six” days ago but didn’t tell the team until after he pitched the final two innings Wednesday against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“He didn’t tell any trainer, he didn’t tell any coach,” Mattingly said. “It’s one of the things we talk about with young guys. It happens every spring. You ask them to let somebody know and they don’t want to tell anybody because they want to compete and show that they’re going to be whatever. Ross is a great kid but it does go back to that same old thing that happens every spring. Hopefully it’s a situation that puts him a little bit behind schedule. A lot of times we feel that if you’re going to take care of it, it may put you behind schedule for two days instead of a week or 10 days, which really pushes you back.”

There is no news on Matt Kemp, who was scheduled to undergo an MRI today on his surgically repaired left ankle. Kemp actually had the MRI Thursday, but Mattingly said that team Dr. Neal ElAttrache would not be relaying the results until “sometime this weekend.”

Kemp took the field with teammates as usual for stretches but still hasn’t been cleared to run. The team is in no rush to have Kemp on the field for the season-opening series in Sydney, Australia on March 22-23. The 29-year-old outfielder figures to begin the season on the disabled list regardless of the MRI results.

Zack Greinke removed from first Cactus League start with right calf injury.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Zack GreinkeDodgers right-hander Zack Greinke was removed from his first Cactus League start Thursday afternoon three pitches into the game with a mild right calf strain.

“It felt like nothing really,” Greinke said. “There was something there. Stuff like that will happen all the time, then the next pitch it’s gone. This time the next pitch, it wasn’t gone and it took a little while. Usually if you walk it off it goes away, but it didn’t go away. So that was kind of the thing that was different.”

Greinke needed one pitch to retire leadoff hitter Tony Campana on a fly ball to left field. The next batter, Cliff Pennington, took a ball and a strike from Greinke before head athletic trainer Stan Conte visited the mound. Conte and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly watched Greinke take a couple practice pitches and discussed the situation before Greinke walked off on his own power with Conte.

“The first (warmup pitch) that I threw, I didn’t really push off with my leg and it was fine,” he said. “I’m sure I could’ve pitched a whole game not pushing off during the season but right now it’s a risk/reward. I say I’m sure I could’ve — maybe I couldn’t have. The one pitch that I didn’t push off on, I didn’t feel it too much. Then the second one I tried to push a little bit more and I did feel it.”

Chris Withrow came in from the bullpen to finish the at-bat with Pennington.
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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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