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Dodgers Australia trip looms large as spring camp opens

The Dodgers began spring training early in 2014 because of a trip to Australia that was a topic of conversation on Saturday.

Mark Metcalfe

GLENDALE -- A total of 39 pitchers and catchers reported to Dodgers camp at Camelback Ranch on Saturday - including the not-yet-officially a Dodger Paul Maholm - but instead of Arizona the looming specter of Australia was fresh in their minds.

The Dodgers open their regular season on March 22-23 in Sydney with two games against the Diamondbacks. As a result, their Cactus League schedule in Arizona ends on March 16, about a week and a half earlier than everyone else.

"We're excited about seeing Australia and starting the season over there. It breaks up spring a little bit for us," manager Don Mattingly said. "The scary part is the preparation and timing."

The preparation started earlier for the Dodgers, who like the Diamondbacks reported to camp between 5-7 days before other teams. In addition, most Dodgers pitchers have already thrown bullpen sessions before reporting.

Clayton Kershaw threw a little this winter with Arizona pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who went to Japan with the Athletics in 2012.

"He said when you come back that's the hardest part, trying to get ready for the season. It's not an ideal situation, travel-wise. But you just have to make it work," Kershaw said. "I want to go there and see the country, go over there and see Sydney. I'd love to go there on vacation. 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."

The plan is for Kershaw to start the opener for the Dodgers, with Zack Greinke pitching the second game. But given the unique circumstances, with limited time to build up innings before the trip and a full week after before the next regular season game, those Australia games might be a bit different than most regular season games.

Even with starting earlier, Dodgers pitchers will have 36 days in camp in Arizona before leaving for Australia. In 2013, pitchers had 43 days in camp before heading to Los Angeles.

"That's usually about the time in spring you start to feel good," Greinke said. "I'm guessing I won't be throwing eight innings over in Australia. I guess it's possible, but it will probably be more of a 90-pitch type thing."

Mattingly said the club would also make sure Hyun-jin Ryu and Dan Haren were ready to start in Australia, if needed.

"Just because of the amount of time that we have, we'll be getting pretty much everybody ready for those days," Mattingly said. "With the brevity of getting guys ready, any little setback at this point could be tough just because of the timetable. There's always something that happens, some guy gets a blister, so we feel like we need to have all of our pitchers ready."

Then there is the issue of getting down under and back. The Dodgers leave for Sydney six days before their first game there, and return with five days before the exhibition Freeway Series begins.

Greinke said during the 14-hour flight to Australia, "I'll probably be miserable."

A.J. Ellis and his wife represented the Dodgers on a trip to Australia in November, and said jet lag is a major concern.

"Going over there was great, there was no issue. Coming back home was pretty rough. We had a 24-36 hour lag, which is expected and normal," Ellis said. "It's great to see we have that week built in between Australia and opening day in San Diego, so we'll be able to get our legs back under us."

The Dodgers open the domestic portion of their regular season schedule on March 30 in San Diego against the Padres, eight days after the second game in Sydney.

Putting aside all the fuss of the Australia trip, and the disruption it causes the Dodgers' schedule, should these two games in Sydney even count as regular season games?

"If it didn't [count for the regular season], we wouldn't be making the trip," Greinke said.