SAN DIEGO — For the Dodgers, the start of this season is beginning to feel uncomfortably similar to the start of the last.
In fact, this could turn out worse.
The Dodgers did beat the San Diego Padres on Tuesday, 3-2, to improve to 3-1. But the good news ended there.
Not only did Manager Don Mattingly have to concede that ace Clayton Kershaw was unlikely to pitch this month because of a strained back muscle, he said $10-million setup man Brian Wilson was about to join the sidelined ace on the 15-day disabled list.
In the wake of his uncharacteristic eighth-inning implosion two days earlier, Wilson underwent an MRI exam that revealed an irritated nerve in his right elbow.
Mattingly tried to take an optimistic view, pointing out the exam showed no damage to the twice-repaired ligament in the elbow.
But then again, Mattingly and the Dodgers also initially downplayed the severity of Kershaw's injury. At the time, they made it sound as if Kershaw's next start would be postponed by only couple of days.
The team is now saying that Kershaw will spend the next two to three weeks on a "submaximal throwing program," which, evidently, is a new euphemism for "playing catch." At the conclusion of those two to three weeks, Kershaw will be re-evaluated by team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache to determine when he might be able to throw with greater intensity.
Asked if the timetable ruled out the possibility of Kershaw's pitching in April, Mattingly replied, "Two to three weeks and then you have to have some type of progression, so that would be fair enough."
Kershaw threw a career-high 259 innings last season, counting the playoffs. The Dodgers were mindful of that, which is why they considered not taking him to Australia for their season-opening series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. But Zack Greinke strained a calf muscle, leading to Kershaw's taking the mound on opening day on the other side of the world.
Now, the team's $215-million investment is sidelined indefinitely. So is Wilson, who is less than two years removed from his second reconstructive elbow operation.
"It's tough," Greinke said. "You don't want that to happen. Either one of those guys missing an extended period of time makes it a lot tougher for us."
Greinke added, "Our team's good enough to handle it."
For now, the Dodgers might be.
But they are counting on a group players with problematic medical backgrounds to remain healthy. Even with outfielder Matt Kemp expected to be activated Friday, another significant addition to the disabled list could force the Dodgers to play short-handed the way they did early last season. That didn't work out particularly well: They were in last place at the end of June.
With Kershaw sidelined, Hyun-Jin Ryu will shoulder a considerable workload. Ryu pitched in Australia, pitched the Dodgers' domestic opener Sunday in San Diego and is scheduled to pitch again in the home opener Friday. That start will be Ryu's third in the team's first six games.
Swingman Paul Maholm is expected to pitch Saturday, Greinke on Sunday.
The team's only other active starting pitcher is Dan Haren.
Josh Beckett pitched a simulated game Monday and said his thumb is free of the discomfort that landed him on the disabled list. However, Beckett admitted, "I don't think I can throw 100 pitches."
Mattingly said that Greinke and Ryu's presence will make it easier for the Dodgers to absorb the loss of Kershaw.
"Last year, you got the feeling every time Zack pitched, you're going to win," Mattingly said. "Really, I think Hyun-Jin's moving in that direction. Every time he pitches, you pretty much get a good game, at least a game that's competitive. Even when he doesn't have his best stuff, he seems to be able to pitch enough to keep himself in there or keep us in the game, at least."
Greinke made his season debut Tuesday, giving up two runs and two hits over five innings at Petco Park and getting the win.
As for the loss of Wilson, it means Mattingly can no longer go into auto-pilot mode in the eighth inning if his team is ahead. The eighth inning, which was previously Wilson's and Wilson's only, will now require some management.
Left-hander J.P. Howell pitched the eighth Tuesday, with right-hander Chris Perez warming up as backup.
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