GLENDALE -- The long-presumed assumption that the Dodgers would have Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke start their opening two regular season games in Australia is becoming more and more in doubt with each passing day. Manager Don Mattingly on Monday refused to name a starter for the March 22-23 games at Sydney Cricket Grounds.
"We're not going there. We haven't announced a starter yet. We haven't been close to being clear with that yet," Mattingly said. "We have four guys getting ready for Australia."
Those four guys are Kershaw, Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu and Dan Haren, who will start the Dodgers' first four Cactus League games, in that order, beginning Wednesday. The Dodgers have said since the opening of camp that they planned to have all four starters ready to pitch in Australia, just in case anything happened that would make someone unable to pitch.
But the refusal to name Kershaw and Greinke starters for those two games, when they are widely acknowledged as the best two pitchers on the staff, has been the most puzzling aspect of camp thus far.
"The four guys being ready is because we don't know what's going to happen between here and there. Any setback, we have to be ready. We're basically preparing and not willing to talk about it from there," Mattingly said. "Everything is a possibility."
The Dodgers' Cactus League schedule ends on March 16, and they will board a plane that night for a 14-hour flight to Sydney. The team will play an exhibition game on March 20 against Team Australia, then play the Diamondbacks for two games on March 22-23 (1 a.m. PT & 7 p.m. PT on March 22). The club then has three Freeway Series games against the Angels before opening their domestic regular season on March 30 against the Padres.
Mattingly spoke earlier in camp about not wanting to overwork Kershaw, all but ruling out starting him three times in the team's first six regular season games, even though none of the starts would be on short rest.
The concern here, if any, could be that four Cactus League starts wouldn't be enough time to build up to be fully ready to pitch in a regular season game so soon. But that argument doesn't hold water considering that the Diamondbacks are in the same boat and, even if Kershaw or Greinke are the ones being protected, the same concern would apply to Ryu and Haren.
Both Kershaw and Greinke have voiced their displeasure at making the trip to Australia, but both said they'd be ready to pitch if needed.
"I don't really want to go pitch there, but that's what we're signed up to do so we're going to have to get ready to do it," Kershaw said on Feb. 8.
"I would say there is absolutely zero excitement for it," Greinke told Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles on Saturday. "There just isn't any excitement to it. I can't think of one reason to be excited for it."
The Dodgers could theoretically leave one or both of Kershaw and Greinke behind when they make the trip to Australia and have them pitch in two Cactus League minor league games in order to get ready for potentially opening the U.S. portion of their schedule in San Diego. One or both could occupy one of the three inactive spots on the 28-man opening day roster due to MLB by 7 p.m. PT on March 21.
But that's just speculation and we're likely getting ahead of ourselves. The longer the Dodgers go before naming starters for those first two games, the more likely it is that they won't be Kershaw and Greinke.