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Dodgers to ease Clayton Kershaw's early workload

Several early off days give the Dodgers a chance to start their ace early and often, but the Dodgers plan to also give rest to Kershaw.

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

PHOENIX -- The Dodgers schedule lines up such that ace Clayton Kershaw could start in three of the team's first six games, all on regular rest. But manager Don Mattingly sounds like that isn't in the team's plans.

The Dodgers open their regular season with two games in Australia on March 22-23, then open the domestic regular season on March 30 in San Diego. The home opener against the Giants is April 4.

"We're very mindful of Clayton and the number of innings he pitched last year, and the short winter. We have to make sure we pay attention to how many innings this guy is throwing. We know this guy is a workhorse, and he's deep into a lot of games. It's going to translate into a lot of innings again," Mattingly said. "If we can cut an inning here or there, we're going to try to take care of him as much as we can."

Kershaw threw a career high 236 innings in 2013, then threw 23 more in the postseason. The 259 total innings were the most thrown by a Dodgers pitcher since Orel Hershiser in 1988. But for Kershaw, the total number of innings isn't much of a concern to him.

"I've never been a big fan of monitoring innings. I feel like throwing 100 pitches in nine innings is a lot different than throwing 100 pitches in five innings. I think stressful innings is what you have to monitor," Kershaw said. "Inning count isn't a huge detriment, but the stressful innings really get you.

"I'm never going to like being taken out of a game. Once the season starts, we all have one goal in mind, and that's to win. If I'm going to help the team win, I'm going to be out there," he said. "But as far as saving an inning here and there to help me down the road, I don't really think like that."

The Dodgers are done with the Cactus League on March 16, and plan to have Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu and Dan Haren all ready to start in Australia, just in case. But the shortened spring doesn't give them much room for error.

"We're lining up pretty much everybody for that first day [except Josh Beckett]. With the short stint here [in Arizona], if we get any setbacks where a guy has to miss a pen or two, that could kick him out. So everybody has to be ready at this point," Mattingly said. "We don't know what's going to happen. Obviously we're going to be cautious with our guys, and we don't want to get stuck."

The Dodgers open on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, and have off days on Monday and Thursday during the season's first week, followed by off days on Monday and Thursday during the season week as well, and another off day on Monday, April 14. The Dodgers don't need a fifth starter until April 19, their 18th game. But they don't want to ignore the fourth starter, likely Haren, either.

"It is one of the worries of this setup. If you go one way, this guy might not pitch for 12 days. That's not good for pitchers, it hasn't worked very well in the past," Mattingly said. "We have off days early. We want to take advantage of them."

A more likely scenario for Kershaw is to start the openers in Sydney and San Diego, then be followed in April by Greinke, Ryu, then Haren. That would allow Kershaw to pitch on April 5, on five days rest, then again on April 11, another start on five days rest.

"I'm going to pitch when they tell me to. I'll be ready for whatever," Kershaw said Sunday. "If they don't want me to pitch, that's one thing. But as long as I get to pitch I don't really care when or where."

Kershaw on Sunday threw to hitters for the first time in camp by throwing live batting practice. He threw 25 pitches to four batters.

"It's fun to be facing some hitters again," Kershaw said. "Everything works, so that's good."