© 2013 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

9/17/2013 1:50 A.M. ET

Mattingly 'pretty optimistic' Dodgers are getting healthy

PHOENIX -- If the sudden deluge of Dodgers injuries has you feeling like it's May again, you're not alone.

"It feels like it a little bit," manager Don Mattingly said. "But I feel pretty optimistic most guys are getting healthy."

As Matt Kemp finally nears a return, still on the sidelines are shortstop Hanley Ramirez and outfielders Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford. Mattingly added Scott Van Slyke to the list with a tight ribcage muscle, the reasoning for starting rookie Nick Buss in left field Monday night.

Ramirez, healing from two injections that were administered to relieve an inflamed nerve in his lower back, felt improved enough to play catch and hit off a tee, Mattingly said.

Ethier (sprained right ankle), did no baseball activities Monday, indicating he will be out awhile.

"He's getting better, but it's still a few days for him," Mattingly said.

Crawford, out with recurring lower back issues, started playing catch but is not ready to hit. He said he's hoping anti-inflammatory medication resolves the problem, as it did around the All-Star break, but said an injection similar to Ramirez's is possible.

Mattingly started Nick Punto at shortstop Skip Schumaker in center field, along with Buss in left field.

Kershaw granted extra rest; Fife to start Wednesday

PHOENIX -- The Dodgers will give ace left-hander Clayton Kershaw three extra days of rest and start rookie Stephen Fife on Wednesday night against the D-backs. Kershaw will instead start Saturday in San Diego.

The club believes Kershaw, who already has thrown a Major League-high 223 innings, needs the extra rest as a precautionary measure, especially with the chance of pitching deep into October. He has allowed two earned runs in each of his last two starts, his most recent coming Friday night against the Giants.

Kershaw is healthy and threw a bullpen session Monday, instead of his normal throw day Sunday, and figures to throw another Wednesday. Ricky Nolasco will pitch as scheduled Thursday against Arizona.

Fife will be making his first start for the Dodgers since Aug. 4. In two relief appearances since his most recent recall, he has allowed seven earned runs in five innings.

Kemp K's to end game in first at-bat off DL

PHOENIX -- The Dodgers will take what they can get from Matt Kemp, and at the end of the day Monday, it was a game-ending strikeout in a 2-1 loss to Arizona.

Kemp struck out pinch-hitting for Hyun-Jin Ryu in the ninth inning with runners on second and third, his first game appearance since suffering a badly sprained left ankle July 21, compounded by a strained right hamstring muscle while rehabbing.

"It's been a nightmare," Kemp said.

He was activated before the game and after some tentative baserunning in pregame drills left manager Don Mattingly no choice but to reduce Kemp's role to pinch-hitting until he shows his legs (and confidence in them) are back.

Mattingly said the situation was right to use Kemp.

"He's been swinging the bat good and I have no real concern about using him there," said Mattingly.

"It felt good to finally compete," said Kemp. "Felt good to have the adrenaline rush and get the first at-bat out of the way. It didn't turn out quite the way I wanted but it is what it is."

Kemp is aware Mattingly thinks he may be reluctant to go full speed.

"Anybody would.You pull a hamstring a couple of times," said Kemp, who missed 24 games earlier in the year with the same injury. "I've just got to get as many at-bats as I can and get back in games and see where it takes me."

As for his one appearance Monday against Arizona closer Brad Ziegler, he said, "I swung at a pitch I shouldn't have swung at. The first two felt really good, but I just swung at a bad [1-2] pitch. He got me."

Kemp missed 86 of the Dodgers' first 149 games.

Billingsley thriving in recovery from Tommy John surgery

PHOENIX -- Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsley, not even five months removed from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, is four weeks into a throwing program with stunning results.

"My arm probably hasn't felt this good since high school," said Billingsley. "When you're a teenager you pick up a ball and just start throwing, not worrying about having to loosen up. That's how it feels now for the first time since I was in my teens. I'm really happy with how it feels and the way it's going. They have to hold me back, it feels so good."

Billingsley said that in addition to transplanting a new ligament, doctors shaved a bone spur they believe was adding to his discomfort.

He's now playing catch at 90 feet and expects the distance to gradually increase. Without a setback, he hopes to throw off a mound around the first of the year and be ready for Spring Training.

"I'm sort of going week to week," he said of his rehab at Camelback Ranch-Glendale. "I'm competing each task and doing all the exercises. I'm looking forward to the mound, but I'm not going to rush."

Also visiting the clubhouse Monday was Scott Elbert, also recovering from Tommy John surgery and Shawn Tolleson, who had lower back surgery, then tore a muscle in his backside. He is participating in Instructional League and expects to pitch in the Arizona Fall League.

Worth noting

• The Dodgers signed Japanese free-agent right-handed pitcher Takumi Numata to a Minor League contract. Numata, 19, graduated from Ohgaki Nihon University High School in 2012 and played for the Edion AIT OB Blits of the Japanese Industrial League from April-September 2013. He is expected to report to Camelback Ranch-Glendale, where he will work out with the Dodgers' Instructional League team.

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