Matt Kemp on coming off the DL, returning to team

PHOENIX -- Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp returned to the Dodgers' lineup Tuesday night, the former expected by manager Don Mattingly, the latter not so much.

Mattingly said the way Ramirez hit soft-toss Monday, he was confident the shortstop had responded sufficiently to spinal injections to return. Ramirez batted third against the D-backs.

But Mattingly said he was surprised when Kemp ran the bases in an early workout Tuesday. Mattingly said Kemp did it "without hesitation and that was all we needed. That made it nice. A good surprise."

Kemp, who was activated from the DL and struck out as a pinch-hitter to end Monday's 2-1 loss, wasn't exactly full speed around the bases in the workout, but he was clearly more confident than a day earlier. Kemp batted fifth.

Mattingly said that Carl Crawford, out with a stiff lower back, had improved enough to take batting practice on the field and might be a day or two away.

Andre Ethier still wears a protective walking boot for his sprained left ankle, but Mattingly said his progress has been steady. He said Ethier will be out longer than Crawford, "but I don't feel like it's 10 days or anything."

Also returning to the lineup was Scott Van Slyke, who was sidelined the past several days with a slight rib-cage strain and played left field.

Feeling 'great,' Kershaw understands call for rest

SF@LAD: Kershaw tosses seven solid innings vs. Giants

PHOENIX -- Clayton Kershaw said he feels "great" and doesn't need the three extra days of rest he'll get this week as the Dodgers have pushed his start back from Wednesday night in Arizona to Saturday in San Diego.

Stephen Fife will make the spot start Wednesday night against the D-backs.

"I don't know if protect is a good word," Kershaw said of the precautionary move made because he's already thrown a Major League-leading 223 innings. "They want me to be well-rested if I pitch deep [into October]. I don't think I need it, but I'm not going to argue about it."

Kershaw said because of an increased offseason conditioning program, he feels "way better than last year at this time," when he was forced to skip a start with an inflamed hip.

Manager Don Mattingly downplayed media speculation that the move was fueled by a desire to set up the rotation for the postseason, to have his ace lefty pitching one day before Zack Greinke instead of after him.

"I haven't thought that far off," Mattingly said about the postseason, then adding, "That will be a benefit of this. Clayton fought us a little bit. He knows we're trying to take care of him. Ned [Colletti, general manager] has been concerned, the whole organization I think, about keeping his innings down. He's only got two more starts and we felt this was the right time."

Fife will start Wednesday, Ricky Nolasco on Thursday, Edinson Volquez on Friday and Kershaw on Saturday. But Mattingly also said Greinke will pitch on regular rest Sunday. Monday is a day off and Hyun-Jin Ryu will start Tuesday in San Francisco, followed by Nolasco and Volquez.

Drawing spot start comes as relief to Fife

LAD@SD: Fife strikes out six against the Padres

PHOENIX -- The good soldier that he is, Stephen Fife says he'll do whatever the Dodgers ask of him.

But the truth is that Fife is a creature of habit to an extreme, a personality trait for a pitcher better suited to starting than relieving. So, when told his next assignment is a spot start in place of Clayton Kershaw Wednesday night, Fife was, well, relieved.

"My last two appearances have been in relief and that really hasn't been part of the plan of my career," Fife said. "Relieving for me is a challenge. It's interesting having to get going in three or four minutes. I've tried to learn how. But basically, all I've ever done in my baseball life is start and I'm definitely more comfortable starting."

In those two relief appearances, Fife allowed seven earned runs in five innings. In nine starts for the Dodgers this year, he's 4-3 with a 2.47 ERA. Those numbers would probably give him a regular job in just about any rotation that doesn't have Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ricky Nolasco, etc.

Fife is one of 11 starting pitchers the Dodgers have used this year. Although he was ninth on the depth chart coming into Spring Training, Fife has made more starts for the Dodgers this season than Chad Billingsley, Josh Beckett, Ted Lilly or Aaron Harang.