Healthier days on the horizon?

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers finally got some good news on the health front, as second baseman Mark Ellis is set to begin a rehab assignment Saturday with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, the team’s Class-A affiliate.

Ellis has been on the disabled list since May 19 because of a left leg injury suffered on the previous day. He’ll play four consecutive minor league games, and manager Don Mattingly says he hopes Ellis will be available for next week’s series against the Arizona Diamondbacks beginning Thursday.

The news marks a potential return well ahead of schedule. At one point, Aug. 1 was the tentative target date.

“Way ahead of where I thought I was gonna be,” said Ellis said before Friday’s game against the New York Mets. “I don’t want to jinx it, but I never thought I’d be playing rehab games before the All-Star break, so I was very happy about that. I do feel way better than I thought I would.”

Ellis was hitting .273 with just two home runs and nine RBIs before getting injured, but his absence has been felt on the base paths. His 27 runs scored and .373 OBP ranks fourth and fifth respectively on the team, statistics that only further underscore how badly the Dodgers' bats have struggled of late. Mattingly also cited veteran defensive consistency and on-field leadership as elements welcomed back with open arms.

“You hit it to Mark Ellis and you’re out,” Mattingly said. “That’s what we’ve got. ... Having that guy at second base and up the middle, making that play, being in the right spot. To be honest with you, he’s almost like a coach on the field.”

In the meantime, watching his teammates scuffle has only made matters more difficult for Ellis.

“It’s really hard because when you’re playing well and everything’s not going well, you never feel good about not playing, but you don’t feel any guilt,” admitted Ellis. “But now you almost feel guilty because you feel like you could be helping a little bit.”

In other injury news, Andre Ethier, who’s day-to-day because of a strained oblique, said he’s hoping to play Sunday against the Mets or Monday against the Cincinnati Reds. However, Mattingly emphasized a cautious approach will be taken to prevent any setbacks. Until everyone is 100 percent confident about the right fielder’s health, he won’t be on the field.