Kershaw to throw to hitters Sunday

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers still don't have a timetable for ace Clayton Kershaw to return to their rotation or even go out on a rehab assignment, but he is getting closer.

Kershaw will throw to hitters Sunday for the first time since he pitched the season opener March 22 in Australia. The left-hander went on the disabled list because of inflammation in his back after that start, but he is scheduled to throw another bullpen and then throw about 15 pitches to hitters before the Dodgers' finale against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Kershaw, who signed a seven-year, $215 million contract in January and is regarded as the best pitcher in the league, threw a 35-pitch session Thursday in San Francisco and his fastball topped out at around 85 mph as the training staff slowly lets him up the intensity. Kershaw has reported no discomfort in any of his throwing sessions, but the Dodgers are being extra cautious in making sure this doesn't become a lingering injury.

"It continues to go in the right direction," manager Don Mattingly said before Saturday's game. "We'll see how it goes. It'll be limited with what he's doing with the hitters.

"It's probably too early for a timetable [for his return], at least from my standpoint. It just seems to be stepping forward, but obviously as we get moving he's going to have to go out and throw somewhere. Is that after the [simulated] game and two more bullpens, or another sim game? That's where it all depends on how one step goes to the next."

Team physician Neal ElAttrache was at Dodger Stadium on Friday and checked in with several players, including Kershaw. The Dodgers have done no further testing on his back because he says he is feeling well.

If Kershaw is at the point of throwing to hitters and continues to not report discomfort in the upper back or anywhere else where he might be compensating, then sending him out on a rehabilitation assignment is not too far off, and an early- to mid-May return is not an absurd assumption.

"As long as he is able to progress and not feeling anything," Mattingly said, "they will continue on that route."