WASHINGTON -- As September kicks into high gear, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has had to juggle keeping his team afloat in the National League Wild Card race with dealing with a starting rotation that remains in flux.

After a three-game set with the Nationals, owners of baseball's best record, the Dodgers have another pivotal series in Cincinnati this weekend against the Reds. After leaning on Josh Beckett for a mostly brilliant start on Wednesday night, Mattingly didn't want to disrupt the right-hander's rhythm by starting him out of turn this weekend. Right-hander Joe Blanton will start the opener, while rookie right-hander Stephen Fife will make the fifth start of his career on Saturday.

That leaves Sunday's slot open, and one day after saying right-hander John Ely -- who has made only two appearances in the Major Leagues this season, both in relief -- could start, Mattingly said right-hander Aaron Harang likely will go on short rest. Harang tossed 4 1/3 innings while taking the loss in the first game of Wednesday's doubleheader with the Nats.

"I talked to him today about it," Mattingly said. "He feels good. His work will be kind of on that schedule."

"With Beckett, we kind of have him lined up where we wanted him to keep him on his regular rest."

Billingsley hoping to avoid offseason surgery

WASHINGTON -- With his season over after being transferred to the 60-day disabled list earlier this month, Chad Billingsley will begin a throwing program on Friday to see if he can stave off surgery in the offseason -- possibly of the Tommy John variety.

Billingsley's season officially ended when a partial tear in the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow landed him on the 60-day disabled list on Sept. 5. The 28-year-old right-hander has had two platelet-rich plasma injections into the elbow to see if the slight tearing heals on its own. If it doesn't, Billingsley could be forced to undergo offseason Tommy John surgery, which would sideline him for the 2013 season.

With the Dodgers traveling to Cincinnati on Friday for a three-game set with the Reds, Billingsley will play catch as the first part of what manager Don Mattingly called his "throwing progression."

"This is just the very beginning, first day of probably going out and playing a little catch," Mattingly said. "From there, it's got to get where he has it built up to the point where he can throw a bunch of pitches at full speed off the mound, obviously pain-free. So this is the very beginning."

Billingsley was in the midst of one of his finest seasons when he felt tightness in his elbow in the fourth inning of a game against the Marlins on Aug. 24. That ended up being his last start of the season, and to that point Billingsley had compiled a 10-9 record and 3.55 ERA over 149 2/3 innings.

Billingsley also missed his first post-All-Star break start due to a stint on the DL for unrelated right elbow inflammation.

Mattingly said he was on board with not making a decision on potential surgery until after the season.

"If Chad would have to have surgery, he's not pitching next year," Mattingly said. "If it's [Tommy John] surgery, then he's not going to pitch. The medical people are very conscious of the timetable that we're under as far as him pitching. ... I'm confident we're not going to go into Spring Training guessing. Either he's healthy or he's not. That'll be fairly early in the winter."