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Kuo unconcerned with strike issues

DENVER -- Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo said on Monday he is unconcerned about the fact he struggled to throw strikes in each of his first two appearances this season, on Thursday and Sunday against the San Francisco Giants.

Kuo threw a total of 44 pitches in those games, missing the strike zone with 18 of them (41 percent). He also walked the first batter he faced this season, Giants pinch hitter Mark DeRosa, on four pitches and repeatedly fell behind in counts.

"I'm not worried," Kuo said. "It's only a couple of games. It's still early."

Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and manager Don Mattingly echoed that, saying it probably is unfair to compare Kuo's performance so early in the season to the way he was pitching at his peak last year, when he walked just 18 batters in 60 innings the entire season and had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 4:1.

Kuo has two walks and two strikeouts in 1 2/3 innings this year.

"I'm not concerned about it yet," Honeycutt said. "He was still able to come back and make some adjustments. Obviously, he wasn't as sharp as he was last year, but we're rating him on last year after his first two times out."

Mattingly also pointed to the fact Kuo was on such a conservative program in spring training because of his history of physical problems and said that because of that program, Kuo doesn't have as many innings behind him as most relievers do at the start of the season.

"We were trying to keep him healthy and keep him available, and we were successful with that," Mattingly said. "He isn't throwing the ball where he wants to yet. He doesn't have that shoot-across-the-zone kind of fastball yet."

Blake ready

Mattingly said third baseman Casey Blake probably will come off the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday, the first day he is eligible. The Dodgers originally planned to wait until Friday to take advantage of the off-day Thursday, but Blake was pushing to come back earlier.

Mattingly said he still plans to rest Blake frequently, something Blake has said he isn't thrilled about but that Mattingly feels Blake needs at this point in his career. Mattingly cited the final years of his own career when then-New York Yankees manager Buck Showalter frequently sat him.

"I really didn't want it, but it ended up being the best thing for me," Mattingly said. "It wasn't that big of a thing, and he was going to do what he wanted to do. But the fact he told me about it and I still ended up in almost every game, whether it was going in for defense or whatever, it was OK."

Garland out for Sunday

Mattingly said he no longer is holding out any hope that right-hander Jon Garland will be ready to start on Sunday at San Diego, but that Garland continues to progress in his effort to return from a strained oblique. Garland instead will make a rehabilitation start that day for advanced Single-A Rancho Cucamonga at Inland Empire.

That will put Garland on track to possibly make his first start for the Dodgers on April 15 against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium.

"I think we're hopeful for the 15th, but that is the best-case scenario," Mattingly said. "We're still going to do what is right for the long term."

Mattingly said there still hasn't been a decision on whether it will be John Ely or Tim Redding who is called up from Triple-A Albuquerque to make that start against the Padres. But Ely would appear to be a strong favorite because he already has a spot on the 40-man roster, which is full.

Short hops

Right-hander Vicente Padilla (forearm surgery) experienced soreness on Tuesday, two days after a 60-pitch simulated game, and will see a doctor in Phoenix on Wednesday. Mattingly said Padilla's program will be slowed somewhat, but that he still is ahead of where medical officials thought he would be when he underwent surgery in February to free a nerve trapped under a muscle. ...

Outfielder Jay Gibbons (vision problems) will begin the minor league season on a rehab assignment with Albuquerque on Thursday against Omaha. After numerous at-bats against minor leaguers at extended spring training, Gibbons reported seeing pitches clearly, including picking up spin on breaking balls, a sign his latest contact-lens prescription may have resolved the problem.