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Clayton Kershaw won't pitch for Dodgers on Sunday because of sore back

SportsLos Angeles DodgersBaseballClayton KershawBrandon LeagueDon MattinglyHyun-Jin Ryu

The Dodgers won two games on their season-opening trip to Australia last week, but they may have lost two of their top three starters along the way after Clayton Kershaw was scratched from Sunday’s game in San Diego because of a sore back and Hyun-Jin Ryu was considered questionable as his replacement after tearing the nail on his right big toe.

“There’s not a whole lot to tell you,” Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said. “I think from this point we move forward carefully.”

Ryu was injured running the bases during his start in Australia. And though the Dodgers were tight-lipped about how and when Kershaw’s back inflammation started, the 16-hour flight home from Sydney may have played a role.

“I really don't know how I did it,” said Kershaw, who threw 102 pitches in 6 2/3 innings in Australia.

Asked when he first noticed the pain, Kershaw, who had an MRI exam Wednesday morning, was even more evasive.

“What did Donnie say?” Kershaw said, referring to Mattingly. “Whatever he said is what you go with.”

But the manager also avoided the question when asked directly whether the long flight contributed to Kershaw’s problem.

“I don’t know,” he said. “We heard [about] it yesterday.”

There was grumbling in the Dodgers’ clubhouse all spring over Major League Baseball’s decision to have the team begin its regular season in Australia, with pitcher Zack Greinke saying there was “zero excitement” for the idea. Now Greinke, who didn’t make the trip, is the only one of the Dodgers’ top three starters guaranteed to pitch against the Padres in the opening series of the team’s domestic schedule.

If Ryu, who tested his toe on Wednesday, can pitch without pain, he will start Sunday followed by Greinke and Dan Haren. But if Ryu isn’t ready, Haren would start in Kershaw’s spot.

“We’re still up in the air with Sunday,” Mattingly said. “We’re going to be flexible. Everybody is kind of informed where we’re at, where we may go, could go. And we work from there.

“We work off of Hyun-Jin really right now.”

Losing Kershaw for anything beyond one game could be a huge problem for the Dodgers. The left-hander, who won his start in Australia, was 16-9 with a league-leading 1.83 earned-run average last season. And he was rewarded for that with a seven-year, $215-million contract, the largest in history for a pitcher.

“We’re going to be cautious,” Mattingly said. “We’re not overly concerned. We don’t want to let it turn into something bigger. So we’re going to be very cautious.”

League of their own

Reliever Brandon League lost his job as the Dodgers’ closer last summer when he blew five of 19 save opportunities and posted a 5.30 ERA. And he may be in danger of losing his spot on the roster this spring after giving up five runs, four hits and four walks in 2 2/3 exhibition innings.

But the former All-Star, who is owed $15 million over the next two seasons, doesn’t believe his poor Cactus League stats should be the determining factor in his future.

“I feel like I’m kind of past the point of having to dominate spring training,” he said. “It’s all about getting my body, getting my mind ready for the season. I know how to prepare mentally. Spring training’s all about getting your reps in, getting your innings up.”

That’s one reason why League, who got off to a slow start this spring because of a strained muscle in his side, was left behind to pitch in minor league games when the rest of the team went to Sydney.

The slight, League said, left him “disappointed and upset.” But he pitched well enough in the camp games to earn a vote of confidence from Mattingly.

“We feel pretty good with Brandon right now,” he said.

League can’t rest easy just yet. Even after losing two relievers — former closer Javy Guerra and Rule 5 draft pick Seth Rosin — on waivers Wednesday, the Dodgers will likely cut two more pitchers when they set their regular-season roster this weekend. And another bullpen spot could go in April when the rotation expands to five pitchers.

“I feel like I just have to worry about getting myself ready for the season,” League said. “Whether you want to talk about spots or not, it’s still out of my control.”

Kemp comeback

Matt Kemp, who is eligible to come off the disabled list for the Dodgers’ home opener next week, was 0 for 4 with a walk and a stolen base against a team of Cincinnati minor leaguers Wednesday in Arizona. He is expected to rejoin the team in time for Thursday’s Freeway Series game with the Angels.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Twitter: @billshaikin

Twitter: @kbaxter11

Steve Dilbeck contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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SportsLos Angeles DodgersBaseballClayton KershawBrandon LeagueDon MattinglyHyun-Jin Ryu
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