LOS ANGELES -- Matt Kemp's strikeout numbers reached uncommonly high levels in the Spring Training that just concluded for the Dodgers.
Kemp, coming off a season in which he finished second in the National League MVP Award voting, got the day off in the Freeway Series finale against the Angels on Wednesday, but struck out five times in the first two games against the cross-town rivals, bringing his spring total to a career-high 26.
But manager Don Mattingly was unconcerned with one day remaining until Opening Day.
"It would concern me if the guy loses confidence, and Matt doesn't lose confidence very easily," Mattingly said. "He's going to know he's coming out [of a slump]. That's the thing about being a great player -- they're struggling, but they know they're coming out. It's just a matter of when.
"It would bother me if he was kind of looking at it like, 'Oh, I'm coming out,' and that's it. But it's not that. He's wanting an extra at-bat last night, and he's wanting to get the feel, and he's wanting to look at video and he's wanting to hit extra. So, when I get that, I don't worry."
Kemp hit .262 (17-for-65) with two homers and 13 RBIs in 22 games this spring. Last spring, he struck out 16 times in 25 games, with 12 in 24 games in 2010, 19 in 28 games in '09 and 21 in 22 games in '08.
En route to batting .324 with an NL-leading 39 homers and 126 RBIs, Kemp ranked 13th in the Majors with 159 strikeouts last season. Over the last four years, 177 players have more plate appearances per strikeout (4.32).
"I'm pretty confident that Matt's going to be fine," Mattingly said. "... As long as Matt's working, and I know he's confident, I'm OK."
Mattingly expects tough competition in April
LOS ANGELES -- When manager Don Mattingly looks at his team's April schedule, he doesn't see that 20 of the Dodgers' 23 games are against teams that missed the playoffs last season, or that 14 will come against teams that finished no less than 16 games below .500.
He sees just one thing.
"I look at it weather-wise," Mattingly said. "I know we're going to be in good weather for 30 days. We're not going East, having to play where it could be snowing or whatever. We're going to be here in California, and we're going to be in domes until May 1."
The Dodgers have a chance to start strong out of the gate.
They open up the season with four road games against the Padres starting Thursday at 4:05 p.m. PT, then start a six-game homestand on Tuesday against the Pirates and Padres -- two teams that combined to finish 38 games below .500 last year.
They then start a six-game road trip against the National League Central-champion Brewers and the team that finished 40 games below them, the Astros. The first month ends with a six-game homestand against the Braves and Nationals, before a road game in Colorado.
But in April, Mattingly believes you can throw last year's records and this year's expectations out the window.
It's just a different month.
"When you play teams in the beginning of the year, everybody thinks they're good ... so you don't know what you're going to get," he said. "As the season goes on, you catch a team in September and they're kind of beaten down, then if you get a lead they kind of roll on you. But early in the year, nobody does it. Everybody's going to play. Everybody's excited, and everybody's looking to have a good year, so you're going to get everybody's best effort.
"Early on, it's a dog fight with everybody, no matter who you play."
The Dodgers made some formalities in order to finalize their Opening Day roster on Wednesday. Pitcher Ted Lilly (neck stiffness) and infielder Ivan De Jesus (strained left oblique) were placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to March 26, and pitcher Ronald Belisario was moved to the restricted list.
Also, the Dodgers reassigned left-hander Scott Rice, and infielders Josh Fields and Luis Cruz to Triple-A Albuquerque, while optioning outfielder Matt Angle (Albuquerque), right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (Double-A Chattanooga) and catcher Tim Federowicz (Albuquerque).
Prior to Wednesday's game, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly certified that the rotation order will be: Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang, with Lilly still expected to be activated by April 14.
A.J. Ellis was out of the lineup on Wednesday, one day after getting hit just above the left elbow by an Ervin Santana fastball. But the Dodgers' catcher felt fine, particularly since the pitch didn't really catch any of the bone.
"He's OK," Mattingly said. "He said [the elbow] was better than he thought it would be.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.