SAN DIEGO -- Ken Howell officially returned to his role as bullpen coach after five weeks on the shelf with a diabetes-related condition.

Howell developed a blister on his foot that required aggressive treatment to prevent infection and possible amputation.

"Because of bad circulation, something like that can be a real problem for me," Howell said on Thursday. "But everything's back to normal."

Until Howell left the club, the bullpen ERA was 2.84. In his absence, it was 3.13.

"The biggest thing is for the guys to get themselves in position and defined roles so Donnie [Mattingly] can know when to use them," said Howell. "Players have to make that happen with performance."

Jim Slaton, who filled in for Howell, returned to his role as pitching coordinator at Camelback Ranch-Glendale.

Dodgers stick with Gordon at leadoff, for now

SAN DIEGO -- The Dodgers aren't ready to pull the plug on struggling leadoff hitter Dee Gordon.

"We're going to be patient," general manager Ned Colletti said of his shortstop, who is hitting .212 entering Thursday night's game with 28 strikeouts, seven walks and a .248 on-base percentage.

"We need him to relax and play like he can. We've asked him to take on a lot in a short time. We knew there would be a learning curve and there is. Years ago, people were on Matt Kemp and patience paid off there. His work ethic has been strong. He's never shied away from instruction or work. If he had, we'd be having a different conversation."

In addition to utility man Justin Sellers on the big league club, the Dodgers have journeyman Luis Cruz now starting at Triple-A Albuquerque. Colletti said he is not aggressively seeking to acquire a shortstop via trade.

"Not at this time," he said.

Gordon is batting .156 against left-handed pitching and did not start Wednesday against Padres left-hander Clayton Richard, but was back atop the lineup Thursday night against right-hander Edinson Volquez.

Instead of playing Wednesday, Gordon went through a remedial hitting drill with manager Don Mattingly and hitting coach Dave Hansen, hitting off a tee in the batting cage on the field. Mattingly said he still considers Gordon his leadoff hitter, but might move him down to the eighth spot.

"That's Dee's spot," he said of leadoff. "In the same breath, a couple of games down there might relax him and get him going. It's a thought, but I'm not ready to do it yet."

Kennedy still around, thanks to Maddon

SAN DIEGO -- Dodgers infielder Adam Kennedy and Rays manager Joe Maddon struck up a friendship during the six-year stretch (2000-2005) when Maddon served as manager Mike Scioscia's bench coach with the Angels and Kennedy was the club's second baseman.

Kennedy and Maddon remained close after Maddon became the Rays' manager in 2006. Seven years after they celebrated the 2002 World Series championship together in Anaheim, Maddon became Kennedy's benefactor, perhaps saving his career.

"He did the best thing anyone in baseball has ever done for me," Kennedy said. "Joe Maddon is awesome."

It was two days before 2009 Spring Training camp was to open when Kennedy got word from the Cardinals that he'd been released. At 33, Kennedy was unsure what the future held. Teams already had formed their rosters. At this point, Maddon reached out to the man who'd hit three home runs in the deciding Game 5 of the 2002 American League Championship Series against the Twins.

"Joe brought me to camp in Port Charlotte with the Rays and gave me more at-bats than I'd ever had in Spring Training," Kennedy said. "They had their 25-man set, so I started the season with Durham. The Rays could have kept me there as insurance, but they didn't stand in my way when I had a chance to get back in the Majors."

After 23 games at Triple-A Durham, Kennedy was sent to the Athletics for a player to be named (Joe Dillon). Kennedy hit .289 for the A's with 11 homers and 63 RBIs in 129 games that season. He has been a role player for the Nationals, Mariners and now the Dodgers the past three seasons.

"I'll always remember what Joe did for me," Kennedy said. "Who knows what might have happened if he hadn't invited me to camp and given me the chance to show I could still play. He had his own [infielders], but he gave me all those at-bats."

Batting fifth for the Dodgers ... Adam Kennedy

SAN DIEGO -- Yes, that was Adam Kennedy batting in the fifth spot in the Dodgers batting order Thursday night against the Padres.

"More than anything, it's his success against Volquez," manager Don Mattingly said of Kennedy, who is 5-for-13 against Padres starter Edinson Volquez. "James [Loney] is the other alternative and he really hasn't had any. He's 0-for-6.

"If I'm the pitcher, I remember the guys that got hits off me. He's got to think about it a little bit, the guy's had success behind" cleanup hitter Andre Ethier.

Kennedy remembered hitting third, fourth and fifth last year for Seattle.

"It showed how thin we were on offense," he said. "You don't become a different player with a lineup change. I wish you did."

Returning to the starting lineup against the right-handed Volquez were Dee Gordon, Mark Ellis, Bobby Abreu and A.J. Ellis, all of whom did not start Wednesday.

Mattingly updates on injured Dodgers

SAN DIEGO -- Here is Dodgers manager Don Mattingly's rundown of his injured players:

• Matt Guerrier (elbow tendinitis) -- "He came out of yesterday's bullpen OK today."

(Guerrier said he felt some discomfort, which was expected the first time throwing breaking balls.)

• Jerry Hairston (strained left hamstring) -- "He's doing more and more. He's on that path to get better. Taking ground balls today. He's been hitting."

• Juan Rivera (torn left hamstring) -- "Also on the same path, getting better but it's going to be some time. He's progressing well, he's on a best-case scenario."

• Matt Kemp (strained left hamstring) - "He resumed throwing today, but he's not hitting yet."

(Kemp said he plans to hit off a tee Friday).

• Juan Uribe (arthritic left wrist) -- "We're still letting it calm down and he'll see a specialist Saturday. He had the MRI and got some medication and we'll see if he gets some improvement. There are two spots. On the side it's arthritis from the past, but the spot they're worried about is on top of the wrist."