Mattingly: Carl Crawford doing 'really well'

LOS ANGELES -- When he sprained his left ankle Tuesday against the Cincinnati Reds, it looked as if Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford might be out at least a couple of weeks, maybe more, explaining why the team wasted no time putting him on the 15-day disabled list. Ahead of Sunday's series finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates, manager Don Mattingly was much more optimistic.

"He's doing really well. I say that cautiously, because I know [the medical staff] would like me to say that, but I think right now they've got their fingers crossed at how good he's doing," Mattingly said. "He actually hit off the tee a little bit today. I've seen him in the weight room doing a little agility stuff. If we would have had hitting on the field today they were going to allow him to hit. So Carl's doing really well. Again, I'm going to put a little caution on that just because it's an ankle and it looked pretty bad, but he's doing really well."

Mattingly noted Crawford has yet to start cutting at speed on the ankle, but indicated that short of any setbacks he has a very good chance to come off the DL June 11, his first day of eligibility.

Once he does, Mattingly faces some difficult decisions on how to portion out playing time among his four marquee outfielders, now that defensive problems have pushed Matt Kemp out of center field. Only Yasiel Puig has played well enough to earn daily inclusion in the lineup (and benching him would likely cause a riot, locally). Crawford was great in May, hitting .333 with four home runs and 14 RBIs, but neither he nor Andre Ethier is effective against left-handed pitching.

Behind the plate, Mattingly said catcher A.J. Ellis, who suffered an ankle injury of his own during the celebration after Josh Beckett's no-hitter last Sunday, is also making progress, though not as fast as Crawford.

"At this point he's doing pretty well," Mattingly said. But asked whether Ellis would be available immediately following his own stint on the 15-day DL, Mattingly was noncommittal.

"That one's a little more up in the air," he said.

Right-hander Chad Billingsley, recovering from Tommy John surgery, will throw a simulated game Tuesday, and if all goes well would move on to a minor league rehab start.

"How they would build him up to his pitch count to where he'd need to be to be ready, I haven't heard that," Mattingly said.

With all five Dodgers starting pitchers thriving, Mattingly currently has no opening in his rotation. Once Billingsley is able to return -- he'll require multiple minor league starts -- the Dodgers will have to figure out his role.

"It just depends on where we're at at that time. Obviously if everything's going really well and everybody's pitching well, you just can't turn the apple cart over," Mattingly said. "You've got to work your way back in. So I don't know if at that point it would be a bullpen spot. Right now, we're going to build him up to be what he's been for us, that's a starter and a good one. Just trying to get him healthy right now and then use him the best way we can."