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Dodgers ponder four-man rotation

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The possibility the Los Angeles Dodgers might be forced to begin the regular season with fifth starter Jon Garland and first alternate Vicente Padilla on the disabled list might not be a disaster, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said after Wednesday's Cactus League game, a 9-4 loss to the Seattle Mariners at Camelback Ranch.

"We have been talking anyway about it, really, whether we need a fifth guy until the 10th or 11th [game]," Mattingly said. "With the off-days, [four starters] may be enough, but we'll have to see. We have to find out what the timetable is [for Garland]."

Mattingly added that even before Garland left the game after throwing the first pitch to Mariners shortstop Josh Wilson with two outs in the second inning -- Garland's 30th pitch of the afternoon -- with what appears to be a left oblique injury, Mattingly and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt had discussed the possibility of using only four starters to begin the season.

The Dodgers really don't have to use a fifth starter until their 11th game of the season, April 12 at San Francisco, the first time they are scheduled to play a game on a fifth consecutive day.

Padilla is expected to return about a month into the season from surgery to free a nerve in his right forearm that was trapped under a muscle. The Dodgers should have a better grasp on how much time Garland will miss when they receive the results of his MRI exam Thursday morning. If he is sidelined past April 12, there are a couple of decent candidates to fill in.

One is John Ely, who came up as a rookie last year and impressed with his aggressiveness and consistent pounding of the strike zone. He struck out 37 and walked eight through his first seven starts, during which he went 3-2. But after being touched for four runs in five innings in a June 6 win over the Atlanta Braves, Ely went 1-8 with an 8.00 ERA the rest of the way, striking out 39 and walking 32 in 54 innings. He was shipped to Triple-A for two months before a September call-up.

The other candidate is Tim Redding, a non-roster invitee but a seven-year veteran who last pitched in the majors for the New York Mets in 2009. He has a career big league mark of 37-57 with a 4.95 ERA, and he spent all of last season with the Triple-A affiliates of the New York Yankees and Colorado Rockies, but he has pitched eight shutout innings over three appearances this spring, allowing six hits.

"They have been throwing the ball good, both of those guys, John and Tim," Mattingly said.

Other than the projected starting five of Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda and Garland, Ely and Redding are the only pitchers in camp who have been working on a starter's program, in which their pitch counts and innings are gradually increased so that they're ready to throw about 100 pitches every five days by the time the season starts.

Where's Ethier?

Mattingly had planned for center fielder Matt Kemp and right fielder Andre Ethier to play on three consecutive days for the first time this spring, but Gabe Kapler was inserted into the starting lineup minutes before game time because Ethier was working out in the weight room, unaware he was supposed to start.

Mattingly said he didn't want to risk injury to Ethier by putting him into a game when he didn't have time to stretch.

"He and Matt had both played two games in a row, so I guess in his mind, he was off today," Mattingly said. "I had talked to him about playing three games in a row, but I guess he must have misunderstood something."

Mattingly said the flub was no big deal in a spring training game and not something he felt he had to address with Ethier.

"It was just a misunderstanding," Mattingly said. "I know he didn't mean to do it."

Poultry prank

In the ballplayer hijinks department, Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal released a chicken from his locker in the middle of the team's morning meeting. Mattingly said Furcal had cleared the prank with him several days ago.

But the prank, which took place out of the media's view, didn't sound as funny as what had happened half an hour earlier, when, in full view of reporters, a handful of players and coaches discovered the chicken standing on a shelf in Furcal's locker.

"That's Fookie," said minor league coach Lenny Harris, referring to Furcal's longtime nickname. "He turned himself into a chicken." Furcal, still very much in human form, walked into the clubhouse a few minutes later.

When the meeting broke up, Mattingly assured reporters the chicken was safe.

"No animals were harmed, in case we get any backlash," he said. "I'm sure [the chicken] will be going back to a safe environment."

Short hops

Reliever Hong-Chih Kuo, who is kept on a conservative program because of his history of arm injuries, made his first Cactus League appearance. He retired three of the four batters he faced in the fourth inning but gave up a solo homer to Mariners second baseman Jack Wilson. … First baseman John Lindsey, the 16-year minor leaguer who got his first big league call-up in September, has suffered a recurrence of the left calf injury that sidelined him for several days earlier this spring. He is listed as day to day. He has just four at-bats in the Cactus League. … Josh Lindblom, the Dodgers' second-round draft pick in 2008, was borrowed from minor league camp for Wednesday's game and pitched a scoreless ninth inning, striking out two. … The Dodgers (5-8) host the San Diego Padres on Thursday. Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers and try to become the team's first pitcher this spring to go five innings. He will be opposed by Padres lefty Wade LeBlanc.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter. Follow him on Twitter.