LOS ANGELES -- Many folks around Los Angeles and around baseball have been taken by surprise at Dodgers lefty Ted Lilly's red-hot start to the 2012 season.
Don't count manager Don Mattingly as one of them.
Lilly got the start in Sunday's series finale vs. the Rockies, and Mattingly noted that his early-season success is by no means unexpected -- at least to him.
"This year in spring, I think we saw a difference," Mattingly said. "We felt like he had better finish on the ball in Spring Training, he was getting the ball down early on, his breaking stuff was sharper and you could just see a difference."
Heading into Sunday's start, Lilly sported a 4-0 record and a 1.41 ERA.
The 4-0 record comes on the heels of two seasons in which he went a combined four games under .500.
One thing Mattingly noted is that Lilly is "usually kind of a slow starter." But this season, because he was injury free at the end of 2011, Lilly was able to prepare himself adequately in the offseason for 2012, Mattingly said.
"He's definitely sharper," said Mattingly, noting that that's been the case since Day One of Spring Training. In 2011, Mattingly said Lilly threw "duds" for pitches early in spring -- something he never saw in 2012.
That has carried over into the season, as Lilly, heading into Sunday, had allowed five earned runs in five starts and was striking out almost six batters per nine innings.
Kemp due for MRI after tweaking hamstring
LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp is adamant in saying he's "definitely not going on the DL," but an MRI on his strained left hamstring Monday morning will undoubtedly have more say in that decision.
He was removed from Sunday's 11-5 Los Angeles victory over Colorado after the third inning with what the Dodgers called an irritation of his left hamstring strain. He first sustained the injury last weekend in Chicago.
At the very least, Kemp conceded it seems inevitable he'll have the day off Monday, snapping his streak of 399 consecutive games played, the longest current streak in the Majors.
He irritated the hamstring on Sunday running out a slow grounder to short, on which he appeared to slow down and wince before reaching first base. Upon learning he was being removed, Kemp was visibly frustrated, throwing his glove at the dugout floor.
"I wasn't mad at Donnie," Kemp said, referring to manager Don Mattingly. "It isn't his fault my hamstring hurts. I'm just frustrated. I kind of haven't been able to play how I want to play."
Kemp's April was the best in baseball, but he hasn't been the same since injuring his hamstring, going homerless thus far in May. Still, Kemp is second in the National League in homers (12) and is third in average (.359) and RBIs (28).
"I've felt it in there," Kemp said when asked if the hamstring has affected his performance. "I haven't been able to run the way I've wanted to run and do some of the things I wanted to do, but definitely no excuses.
"The team needs me. I don't think this is a 15-day thing. I think this is is maybe one, two, three days. It's not something that I need to go on the DL for." Kemp said he'll pay close attention to the MRI, but noted he knows his own body and its recovery time best, and given what he feels, he doesn't think he'll be sidelined long.
Mattingly said he'll listen to all parties involved.
"I wouldn't be afraid if that's what we have to do, and I think it's the right thing," Mattingly said of possibly putting Kemp on the DL. "Again, in that area, I'm going to let the medical people tell us what they think."
He added sometimes it's risky to put too much faith in a player -- especially a player like Kemp, who strives to play 162 games a year -- to be forthright with injuries.
"We have to kind of protect him from himself," Mattingly said. "Guys want to play and they'll go out there. Guys are going to say that they can play."
On Sunday, Mattingly told Kemp he couldn't stay in the game if he felt any twinge. Kemp, knowingly, didn't respond, making it clear to Mattingly that he was done for the afternoon.
Gwynn puts on show in pink for wife, mom
LOS ANGELES -- Wearing his pink armband and a pink necklace, Tony Gwynn made a diving catch certain of making highlight reels around the country Sunday. He added a hit, a walk and a couple runs in the victory -- an especially sweet day for Gwynn given its context.
"That's my first decent game on Mother's Day," Gwynn said. "I was happy to give my wife a good Mother's Day gift. And my mother. It's nice."
After the game, the tables in the middle of the Dodgers' clubhouse were piled high with game-worn pink cleats, armbands and bats, worn to raise awareness for breast cancer.
Before the first pitch, the Dodgers honored breast cancer survivors by forming a ribbon shape in the outfield made up of survivors holding pink umbrellas.
"It's a good day for Major League Baseball when we get to put the pink on and let it all hang out out there," Gwynn said. "I think it's a very, very good cause."
Before the game, seven Dodgers had their mothers on hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Infielder Adam Kennedy was one of them.
"It's always fun," he said. "It's a chance for us to show our appreciation to all our moms, and at the same time, we know how big breast cancer is and the awareness and research needed. So it's a fun day."
Ethier, Mattingly tossed for arguing strike call
LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and right fielder Andre Ethier were ejected from Sunday's 11-5 win over the Rockies in the bottom of the fifth inning for arguing a called strike.
With one out and a man on third, Ethier looked at a fastball that appeared inside. Home-plate umpire Mark Carlson rung up Ethier, who immediately voiced his displeasure.
But Ethier headed to the dugout, appearing to get off scot-free, until he turned around and barked once more at Carlson. That was enough to get him tossed for the second time in his career. (The first came on Aug. 26, 2010.)
Ethier's ejection brought Mattingly out of the dugout to argue with Carlson for a minute or two, and he was ejected for the first time this season and the fourth time as manager.
"In that situation there, I just thought it was a close call," Ethier said. "Me and Donnie talked afterwards, and it's probably not the best situation for me to get thrown out right there, especially with Matt [Kemp] coming out of the game [with an injury] and us being short-handed a player."
Ethier finished 0-for-3, but the strikeout didn't harm the Dodgers as A.J. Ellis hit a three-run home run later in the frame to give them an 8-4 lead.
The Dodgers, playing without Kemp, who exited after he aggravated a left hamstring strain in the third inning, put Scott Van Slyke in right field.
Gordon unlikely to be moved from leadoff spot
LOS ANGELES -- The convenient solution for Dee Gordon's struggles would seem to be moving him out of the leadoff spot and down in the lineup -- where the 24-year-old shortstop would have considerably less pressure.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly knows that but also understands it isn't that simple.
"Dropping Dee in the order sounds really easy," said Mattingly, who rested Gordon for Sunday's series finale against Colorado. "But then who do you want me to hit there?"
The speedy Gordon is hitting just .211 this season with a .250 on-base percentage. He has stolen 12 bases, too, but he's been caught a Major League-leading five times.
Mattingly went through a list of other possible options for the leadoff spot but noted each had a drawback that leaves Gordon as the obvious choice.
Newly acquired outfielder Bobby Abreu could lead off, Mattingly said, but that would take a potent bat out of the middle of the order. Second baseman Mark Ellis could bat first, but Mattingly likes him in the two-hole, hitting ahead of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, and doesn't want Ellis' role changing on a day-to-day basis.
"He kind of needs to be that guy," Mattingly said of Gordon. "I know we can't force a square peg into a round hole, but we have been able to sustain so far without Dee kind of getting going."
Left fielder Tony Gwynn Jr. got the start on Sunday afternoon in the leadoff spot, but as a platoon player, Gwynn won't be in the lineup with Gordon very often. When Gwynn does play on the same day as Gordon, Mattingly said he'd be fully comfortable moving Gordon down because of the speed and on-base ability Gwynn brings to the table.
Another option is moving A.J. Ellis higher in the batting order. Ellis, a catcher, has been one of the Dodgers' best on-base percentage guys at a .455 clip this season, but he isn't close to a threat on the basepaths.
Mattingly dismissed that notion, saying he is content with leaving Ellis lower in the lineup, where he can drive in runs and turn the order over.
"You try to have a balanced lineup where you have a chance to score in all parts of the game," Mattingly said. "Obviously the more guys you've got that are productive, the easier that is."
Five Dodgers greet surprised fans at gates
LOS ANGELES -- On Sunday morning, the first thing fans walking into Dodger Stadium did was a double take.
Stationed at entrances throughout the ballpark when the gates opened at 11:15 a.m. PT were five Dodgers players, waiting to greet the fans, chat with them and sign autographs.
Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw and reliever Josh Lindblom posted up at the pavilion entrance gates, while Aaron Harang, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Javy Guerra waited for fans at entrances throughout the concourse.
"That was fun," Harang said. "A lot of surprised faces walking in. They were excited about getting to the park and then all of a sudden, here's a player."
One of the things Harang enjoyed about the event, which lasted 15 minutes, was the informal setting and the way he was able to interact casually with fans.
"You had fans come up that were surprised by the whole thing get to come up and say hi to the players and get autographs," he said. "It was really fun."
AJ Cassavell is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.