DENVER -- The day after Esteban Loaiza's 2 1/3-inning outing, manager Joe Torre was asked about his fifth-starter situation in general and 20-year-old phenom Clayton Kershaw in particular.

Torre again drew the comparison to his managing last year of young Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain. New York's "Joba Rules" required Torre to give Chamberlain as many days off between appearances as the number of innings he pitched.

The Dodgers have a "Kershaw Decree" -- he is not to exceed 25 innings in any month while in the Minor Leagues. The strategy is to ration the left-hander's outings so that he's useful to the Major League club late in the season. In his only full professional season last year, Kershaw threw only 122 innings.

Kershaw was signed out of high school, whereas Chamberlain had one year of college.

"We don't want to get teased and find out in September [that Kershaw's] not pitching anymore," said Torre.

General manager Ned Colletti saw Kershaw's 6 1/3-inning start on Thursday night and told Torre that the hurler's breaking ball was inconsistent in the early innings. Torre said it's his understanding that Kershaw's next few outings will be in relief in order to further minimize his workload.

"We all know that his future, if he stays healthy, is in the big leagues," Torre said. "I leave it to the Minor League people and Ned to tell me when it is."

The Dodgers won't need a fifth starter until May 17. That will be too soon for the return of Jason Schmidt, but Torre is sounding more optimistic that Schmidt's return is more a matter of when, and not so much if.

"We've got Schmidt there in the background," said Torre, noting that the right-hander is scheduled for a simulated game on Monday or Tuesday that could be followed by a Minor League rehab assignment. "If he continues in the next couple days, a month down the road, he may be the next guy, starter-wise."