LOS ANGELES -- It seemed all season, the theme surrounding the Dodgers was injuries. Recently, it's shifted from those injuries to the ensuing healing process.
The Dodgers got good news on a couple fronts Sunday, as right-hander Vicente Padilla and outfielder Marcus Thames made relatively successful returns in Minor League rehab appearances.
At Triple-A Albuquerque, Thames smacked a third-inning home run, going 1-for-3 on the afternoon before being removed in the late innings.
In Class A, Padilla threw two scoreless frames. In the first, he struck out one and allowed a hit that was erased by a double-play grounder, and in the second, he hit a batter, but worked out of the trouble.
Another pitcher of interest, Zach Lee, returned after missing a start and allowed six runs without getting out of the first inning Sunday for Class A Great Lakes. Lee, last year's first-round Draft pick who signed for $5.25 million, walked two, hit two batters and allowed a home run.
Kemp, Mattingly ejected by plate umpire
LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp and manager Don Mattingly were ejected after the fourth inning Sunday by plate umpire Ron Kulpa.
Mattingly was in the dugout and Kulpa was behind the plate when they exchanged words during the bottom of the fourth inning over a called strike during Casey Blake's at-bat. Blake struck out. Two batters later, Kemp grounded into an inning-ending double play after having two strikes called by Kulpa.
As Kemp was returning to the Dodgers' dugout, he was ejected by Kulpa, bringing Mattingly out for a lengthy argument, during which the umpire ejected him. Mattingly finally was escorted off the field by third-base umpire Jim Joyce.
"The main thing for me is that Matt's walking away at that point and looking away," said Mattingly. "I just feel like all he's got to do is turn around and walk away and then you got no confrontation -- just protecting Matty more there."
Kemp said he did say something to Kulpa as he headed to the dugout, but not around the time he was ejected. In fact, he said he was looking at coach Davey Lopes near the entry to the dugout when he was told he had been tossed.
"When I got kicked out, I wasn't even talking to him," Kemp said. "Then somebody said, 'You're gone.'"
It was the second ejection of the season for Mattingly, the first for Kemp this year and the second of his career.
Confident Mattingly calls for sense of urgency
LOS ANGELES -- For all the struggles the Dodgers have gone through this season -- a slew of injuries, quiet bats and a makeshift bullpen -- the fact that they entered Sunday only six games out of first place isn't lost on Don Mattingly.
The Dodgers manager refused to set what he called "artificial deadlines" for when the team would need to make a run, but he called for a sense of urgency to remain in the picture before making a push.
With the NBA Finals set to begin this week, Mattingly used a basketball analogy to describe the Dodgers' goal in the division, saying they need to be within striking distance at all times.
"It's like the NBA, where if you get down 20 and you have to make that 18- or 16- point run, by then you're out of gas," Mattingly said.
The Dodgers trail the rival Giants by six games in the National League West, but also must jump a red-hot Arizona team and a Colorado team known for its late-season surges.
Recent injuries within the division, however, may have opened it up a bit. Giants catcher and last season's NL Rookie of the Year, Buster Posey, may be out for the season after a collision at home plate. Rockies pitcher Jorge De La Rosa will also likely miss the rest of the season with a torn ligament in his throwing elbow.
For most of the season, the Dodgers were the team with the bumps and bruises. Now they're on the mend, and it's the rest of the division suffering from injuries.
"If somebody was out there running, and we were 12 back right now, this would be a little different feeling," Mattingly said. "We're sitting here at a point where we haven't played well in general. ... Then on the right side of that, you say, 'Hey, we're only six back. We just got to put some games together.'"
Mattingly pointed to the Dodgers' playoff run in 2008, as well as some of the Rockies' recent late-season surges, as proof that anything can and has happened in the NL West -- as long as the Dodgers don't dig themselves too deep a hole.
Dodgers pitchers might be overcompensating
LOS ANGELES -- It's human nature to try to overcompensate, and though Don Mattingly doesn't want his pitchers doing so, he says that may be their mindset these days.
"Every run you give up, we're having to battle to get it back," Mattingly said of the lack of run support for his staff. Heading into Sunday's game, the Dodgers' offense ranked second to last in runs per game, ahead of only Minnesota. "I think human nature would tell you they think they've got to be really good every time they go out there."
Mattingly clarified that he always wants his pitchers to be "really good," but the added pressure of knowing they have to be brilliant can take a toll.
On Saturday night, a Wes Helms two-run double in the sixth inning broke the game open for the Marlins. Given the low-scoring games Los Angeles has become accustomed to playing, and the pressure on pitchers to keep the game close, Mattingly used one word to sum up the game-changing dribbler down the first-base line: "Deflating."
Dodgers encouraged as Kuo faces live hitters
LOS ANGELES -- Reliever Hong-Chih Kuo may be on his way back to Los Angeles after he faced live hitters earlier in the week at the Dodgers' Arizona training complex.
Kuo is on the disabled list with an anxiety disorder, and hasn't pitched since May 9. He has pitched in nine games this season, throwing 4 2/3 innings and allowing six earned runs for an ERA of 11.57.
In Don Mattingly's pregame meeting with the media Sunday, he said Kuo threw about 50 pitches earlier in the week before an off-day. Kuo is planning on doing the same thing again before taking any further steps, Mattingly said.
"The fact that he's out throwing again is encouraging to us," Mattingly said. "We're at a point where you got to let us know when you're ready. Take the next step. He'll be able to let us know that. Putting pressure on him isn't going to do him any good."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. AJ Cassavell is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.