The Dodgers aren't sure when reliever Hong-Chih Kuo will return from… (Katie Falkenberg / For The…)
When it comes to a projected everyday lineup, you can miss what you never had.
For all their shortcomings, the Dodgers might not rank near the bottom of the National League in runs scored and earned runs allowed if they did not lead the league in injured players.
"I don't want to be first place on this side of the equation," said Stan Conte, the Dodgers' increasingly busy trainer, who couldn't recall being part of a team with eight players on the disabled list at one time before this season.
That number represents twice as many players as any of the Dodgers' division rivals have sidelined, and the injuries don't stop there. Right fielder Andre Ethier was limited to three pinch-hit at-bats and catcher Rod Barajas didn't play in the recently completed series against Houston after being hurt last weekend.
Dodgers have been afflicted from head (reliever Hong-Chih Kuo, anxiety disorder) to foot (Ethier, sore left big toe), becoming a pain for Manager Don Mattingly, who has repeatedly filled out lineup cards with players who might need identification to enter Dodger Stadium.
Mattingly's rosters have included nine rookies and four players who have made their major league debuts. That's what can happen when your players miss a combined 303 games less than a third of the way through the season, half of the 606 games the Dodgers missed in all of 2010.
Included are a total of 100 games lost on the disabled list by projected infielder starters Casey Blake, Rafael Furcal and Juan Uribe, along with outfielder Jay Gibbons. The team's top three relief pitchers, Kuo, Jonathan Broxton and Vicente Padilla, have been out 47 games.
"Some of it is playing the game and some of it is impossible to condition yourself not to get, like Casey Blake or Jay Gibbons," General Manager Ned Colletti said. "Those are unluck of the draw, I guess."
Blake opened the season on the disabled list with a sore back and was sidelined again after only 14 games when his left elbow developed a staph infection. Gibbons was unable to make his season debut until May 3 because of ill-fitting contact lenses.
Other injuries have been somewhat predictable, such as the nerve irritation in Padilla's right arm. The reliever has a history of problems in that area.
"It's very hard sometimes to talk about this stuff without making it sound like bad luck, which I don't believe in, or excuses — a broken finger on Furcal, those kinds of things," Conte said. "Can you do something about that? It's hard to know, but you do the best you can."
Conte's staff of two physical therapists, two athletic trainers, a strength coach and a massage therapist has worked 18-hour days, seven days a week, to help players recover from their injuries. The Dodgers also have employed specialists, Conte said, including one to manage Furcal's left thumb and others to help Kuo deal with the anxiety disorder that has resulted in an inability to command his pitches.
Assessing when to activate players from the disabled list isn't easy. After his team lost for the ninth time in its last 12 games, Mattingly acknowledged Wednesday having rushed Furcal back before the shortstop could sufficiently regain his timing at the plate in a minor league rehabilitation assignment. Furcal has one hit in 18 at-bats since his return this week.
"The line you walk is, when can you put them back there so they don't get reinjured and they also can perform at their highest level?" Conte said. "So if you get them back at 80%, the guy who's replacing them probably is better. So just getting their physical body out there isn't enough."
Left fielder Marcus Thames said he ended up on the disabled list this month because he tried to return too quickly from a strained quadriceps muscle.
"That's why I'm hurt now," Thames said. "But you just have to try to make sure you're doing everything the trainers want you to do and know your body and try to get back."
Keeping tabs on who's coming and going from the disabled list has become a full-time endeavor. As Blake and reliever Blake Hawksworth prepared to embark on a rehabilitation assignment this week, Ethier and Barajas were hurt in a game against the Chicago White Sox — Ethier injuring several body parts when he crashed into a chain-link fence and Barajas spraining his right wrist in a home-plate collision.
"The most frustrating part is when guys are getting ready to come back and you're thinking, 'OK, by the end of the homestand we have a chance to be at full strength,' and then two other guys kind of get banged up," Mattingly said.
If there has been an upside to the rash of injuries, it is that it accelerated the development of prospects such as Jerry Sands, Rubby De La Rosa and Kenley Jansen — all of whom started last season in Class A of the minor leagues.
"It's been a little bit of a fast-forward on a lot of players," Colletti said.
De La Rosa pitched a perfect inning in his major league debut Tuesday. Jansen recently completed a stretch of 10 consecutive scoreless appearances. And after struggling for much of his first month in the major leagues, Sands hit his first two home runs this week.
The Dodgers could be at least a little closer to full strength by the start of the homestand that begins Friday against Florida at Dodger Stadium. Barring any setbacks, Blake and Hawksworth could both be activated from the disabled list.
And that would still leave the Dodgers with twice as many players out as the Marlins, who have only two players sidelined because of injuries.
"The fact is, injuries are a part of sports," Conte said. "You're never going to get to zero. But we don't want to be at eight either."