DENVER -- It may sound like two steps forward and one step back, but the Dodgers are making progress in getting their full squad healthy and in the big league dugout.

Right-hander Jon Garland is on track to return as early as April 15 and will join the club Friday in San Diego to throw a bullpen session before going to Class A Rancho Cucamonga for a rehab start. Garland has been angling to fill the fifth starter's spot when it first comes into play Friday.

"He hasn't pitched in a game yet," manager Don Mattingly said, dismissing the idea. "It's hard to let him come out and think he's going to just pitch a game. I know he thinks he can, and maybe he can. From our standpoint, it's kind of hard to send him out there and say he's got 80 pitches when he hasn't pitched in a game yet.

"We're hoping for the 15th. I'd say that would be the best-case scenario, but we still want to do what's best long term. If he's not right, he can't do it."

Outfielder Jay Gibbons is also making progress, after getting new contact lenses to correct a problem with his depth perception. He took 12 at-bats against Dodgers pitchers in Arizona on Tuesday and will join Triple-A Albuquerque on Wednesday and start the Isotopes' season with them Thursday.

"He said he's seeing the ball," Mattingly said. "So far, so good. He seems to be feeling better about it all. He's in shape. He did everything we wanted him to do in camp. Now it's just trying to get timing with what he's seeing."

Right-hander Vicente Padilla is continuing his recovery from forearm surgery, but the Dodgers are dialing him back a bit.

"He's had some soreness after that 60[-pitch session] the other day, so we're going to slow him down a little bit," Mattingly said, indicating the soreness was in Padilla's right forearm and elbow area. "He's still really ahead of schedule for us and what we thought, but we just want to be careful and not push him too fast."

Mattingly sees Padilla as a versatile cog in the bullpen, capable of being everything from long man to last man at the back of the bullpen.

We look at him as a guy who can give you a couple innings if need be," Mattingly said. "He's also a guy if Brox [closer Jonathan Broxton] was down and needed a day, he's the guy you'd close with. He throws strikes, he locates his fastball, he's not afraid, and he's got something for everybody. The only time he walks somebody is really when he wants to. He can pitch in all different areas in the 'pen, and that's why we really like him there."

Blake likely to return from DL on Wednesday

DENVER -- Casey Blake is on the verge of his first victory of the season, having successfully lobbied the Dodgers to take him off the disabled list two days earlier than they'd planned.

Blake has hit a tipping point with a back injury that put him on the DL on March 22. Missing more time while waiting for the Minor League season to start Thursday, now that the Minor League Spring Training games he was rehabbing in have ended, could do him more harm than good.

According to manager Don Mattingly, Blake likely will come off the DL on Wednesday and play in the finale of the two-game set in Colorado. The Dodgers optioned infielder Ivan De Jesus to Triple-A Albuquerque after Tuesday's game to make room on the roster for Blake's return.

"As long as he doesn't break his leg tonight," Mattingly said, indicating his intention to activate Blake on Wednesday, adding that once he's activated, he expects him to be his everyday third baseman. "If he's here, he's here to play."

Nevertheless, Mattingly took a page from his own career in charting a path for Blake, 37, to get some extra rest throughout the season, planning days out of the lineup perhaps once a week. Mattingly reluctantly took a similar approach at the end of his own career, when Yankees manager Buck Showalter got more out of him by playing him a little less.

"I didn't really want it, but it ended up being the best thing for me," Mattingly said. "It wasn't that big of a thing. He was going to do what he wanted to do. But the fact that he told me, and I still ended up in almost every game. If we were in it, I was playing defense. It worked out, and that's what lets me know that it's probably the best thing over the course of a season."

With versatile infielders like Jamey Carroll and Aaron Miles getting plenty of playing time while Blake completes his recovery, the Dodgers are developing their depth and finding early success.

"I still believe in what we were talking about [with giving Blake regular rest]," Mattingly said. "I can't let him get beat up. It gives us more flexibility as far as mixing and matching, lineups and things like that.

"I watched Casey for two years, knowing that I see him when he gets tired. He fights it and it really prolongs it. Having that day to keep him strong, he's going to be better off. I think he'll have better numbers by playing less."

Mattingly to stick with regulars for day finale

DENVER -- The Dodgers' only loss of the season so far came on a day when nearly half the regular starting lineup was on the bench. Saturday's day game after a night game gave manager Don Mattingly reason to rest shortstop Rafael Furcal and catcher Rod Barajas, with Juan Uribe out of the lineup after being hit by a pitch on Opening Day and third baseman Casey Blake still on the disabled list.

Don't expect an encore when the Dodgers wrap up their two-game set with a day game against the Rockies on Wednesday. Furcal will be in the lineup, Blake may be back from the DL and Mattingly expects to field his regular lineup.

"We got the off-day before [the two-day series], the off-day after," Mattingly said. "Raffy's situation is not [to rest] every day game. It's a don't-let-him-get-beat-up type thing."

Mattingly is confident the infield depth the Dodgers have can keep them strong throughout the season and help him keep the whole club healthy.

"We've got Juan, who played all three [infield] spots last year. You got Jamey [Carroll], who's played all three. Aaron Miles has played mostly second and third, but he's played short, too. So we've got combinations of guys that we could use. It's just a matter of trying to put your best lineup out there and your best defense out there on a daily basis."

Mattingly is determined to stick to his guns with his veterans as part of a plan to keep them productive into September.

"There's no perfect way, and there's no telling if this works or not, but it's really about keeping Raffy over the course of 162 [games] and not having a big stretch where we don't have him at all," Mattingly said. "You got to bite the bullet a few days here and there and hopefully keep him the whole year."

Kuo trying to settle into comfort zone

DENVER -- Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo hasn't found his comfort zone quite yet, struggling with his command in a pair of appearances against the Giants.

"Obviously, he hasn't been quite as sharp as last year," manager Don Mattingly said. "He didn't have that shoot-across-the-zone fastball yet the last time out. Next time out it could be right where we want it to be."

Given Kuo's history of elbow issues and surgeries, the Dodgers have been conservative about his work load through Spring Training and into the regular season, searching for the best balance to keep him available and healthy without over-extending the southpaw.

"We really are pretty careful with him, so he doesn't get the outings that everybody gets," Mattingly said of his Spring Training regimen. "We just kind of expect him to come out throwing 97 and doing his thing. But we've had to be careful."