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03/24/11 9:19 PM ET

Padilla throws impressive bullpen session

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- One month after undergoing arm surgery, Dodgers pitcher Vicente Padilla had an impressive bullpen session Thursday, and he is tentatively scheduled to pitch batting practice Sunday.

It would be the first time Padilla faces hitters since the Feb. 24 surgery to free an entrapped radial nerve in his right forearm.

Padilla threw 28 pitches -- 20 fastballs -- on Thursday, and most of them registered in the high 80s. He also threw a handful of his unique slow curveballs and a couple of sliders.

If Padilla comes out of this bullpen session and the batting-practice session healthy, the next step would likely be a handful of Minor League game appearances.

Manager Don Mattingly discounted the chance that Padilla would be rushed back in time for Opening Day, but he could be ready only days after that, rather than weeks. Padilla is being viewed as a reliever and won't need to build arm strength for anything more than 25 pitches per appearance, compared to the 100-pitch target of a starting pitcher.

Curveball remains work in progress for Kuroda

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Hiroki Kuroda's spring ERA moved closer to six in Thursday's start, but the Dodgers' No. 4 starter sounded no real alarms after allowing five runs in six-plus innings against the Rockies.

"I have a little bit more work to do," said Kuroda, who threw 75 pitches during the game and 20 more in the bullpen afterward because manager Don Mattingly wanted to get work for some relievers. "I think I'll get there when the regular season starts because of the emotion."

Kuroda said most of the eight hits he allowed were off the curveball that has become his special project this spring.

"I threw more than 10 of them," Kuroda said. "If I have the right feel for them during the season, I'm going to throw them. The percentage will depend on how I feel that day."

With the start of the season a week away, the Dodgers are likely to open with an 11-man pitching staff, because they don't need a fifth starter until April 12. Kuroda will follow Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly in the starting rotation.

In the bullpen, Jonathan Broxton added another scoreless inning Thursday, and he's the closer. Hong-Chih Kuo, having his most impressive and healthy spring ever, is the primary setup man. Matt Guerrier figures to be the workhorse middleman, although he allowed an RBI triple and an inherited runner to score in a continuation of his disappointing spring. Kenley Jansen has looked as good as he did in last year's callup, and Blake Hawksworth figures to be the multiple-innings replacement for Jeff Weaver.

The final two spots shake out like this: Mike MacDougal essentially has won one spot as a non-roster righty with closer stuff and experience. For the final spot, lefty Scott Elbert is back on track after a rocky beginning of spring, and he seems to have the pole position, with right-hander Travis Schlichting and non-roster veteran Lance Cormier close behind. Ramon Troncoso and Ron Mahay have been inconsistent.

And however the staff lines up on Opening Day, it figures to change shortly afterward, as reliever Vicente Padilla (forearm surgery) and fifth starter Jon Garland (oblique) are making big strides in their recoveries.

If Garland isn't ready for April 12, the options to start are John Ely and Tim Redding, who both figure to start the season at Triple-A.

Decisions on infield still to come for Dodgers

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Don Mattingly's lineup Thursday might have given a hint at what the Dodgers are thinking about in regards to their bench competition.

Third baseman Casey Blake's back is improving, but he's still not expected to be ready by Opening Day. On Thursday, non-roster veteran Aaron Miles started at third base, rookie Ivan De Jesus Jr. was at second and Jamey Carroll returned to the lineup from a bruised finger at shortstop.

It was a little curious why Carroll, whose injury made throwing difficult, returned at the position where throwing is demanding, rather than second base, where he figures to start Opening Day, with Juan Uribe moving to third.

Of course, if something were to happen to starting shortstop Rafael Furcal, the Dodgers would need to know that Carroll can make the throw from shortstop. Otherwise, they would need to keep non-roster veteran Juan Castro. Carroll's only throw, a relay of a double play, bounced.

If Carroll can make the throw, the Dodgers might be comfortable keeping second baseman De Jesus for the short term, until Blake returns. At least, that's the way Mattingly sounds.

"He's been really good," Mattingly said, adding that De Jesus is an accomplished hitter, in his approach and eye, for a rookie. DeJesus went 3-for-5 Thursday, and he is hitting .348 this spring.

"The question was, coming back from the leg [broken in the spring of 2009], was he comfortable? And we have to make sure he can't play only once in a while. He's too good to be a utility guy at this age (23). With Casey out, it opens wider for him. The at-bats will be there -- maybe not every day, but enough that you don't retard the kid's progress."

Meanwhile, Blake spent his first full day on the field, and the inflamed thoracic spinal area seems to have responded nicely to an injection and medication. Mattingly said Blake, instead of returning with the club to Los Angeles Sunday night, will remain in Arizona and take at-bats in a Minor League game, because the club doesn't want to rush back the 37-year-old.

"It just doesn't seem worth trying," Mattingly said. "I can't see him making Opening Day. I believe in miracles, but we would be forcing it. The guy's not ready. If it was the regular season and he had a full Spring Training, you might get him back quicker. But he hasn't had enough at-bats."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.