Justice, Duquette, Hagen on changes to drug program

LOS ANGELES -- Count the Dodgers in favor of the harsher performance-enhancing drug penalties announced earlier Friday by the Commissioner's Office.

Among the stricter penalties: A first-time offender will be suspended without pay for 80 games (increased from 50), a second-time offender will be suspended without pay for 162 games and a third violation will result in a permanent suspension. Another key element: A player who is suspended for a PED violation will not be eligible for the postseason.

"It's something the players have been interested in and pushing for for a long time," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. "We had a meeting in August in St. Louis with Tony Clark [who then ascended this winter to replace the late Michael Weiner as the players' union chief] and we talked about it.

"It's something the players want. The players want to make the game clean. We want to make the penalties harsh. We want to level the playing field, and the penalties should be severe."

First baseman Adrian Gonzalez acknowledged discussing the subject during players' meetings this spring.

"With everything going on, you want a level playing field," he said.

Manager Don Mattingly essentially repeated what he's been saying for years.

"I like stronger penalties," he said. "I want it to be tougher. It protects players, it protects organizations from giving huge deals to those who aren't doing it on their own and it protects the fans who want to see players who are clean."

Ailing Kershaw takes 'little step forward'

LAD@ARI: Kershaw hurls gem to earn first win of 2014

LOS ANGELES -- Inactive for the past couple of days, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw again snapped into motion Friday.

Hey, playing a simple game of catch counts as motion, doesn't it?

"I talked with him afterward and I think, in his mind, it went very well," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "He didn't feel anything throwing. Obviously, he was not trying to throw 95.

"My next question was did he feel anything when he played catch the other day, and he said yes.

"That means we've taken a little step forward."

Several more little steps forward will mean the Dodgers will slot Kershaw in to start their April 4 home opener against the Giants. Though, the conservative skipper isn't quite ready to go there yet, especially because Kershaw's next step will be to throw with a little more intensity and see how he reacts to that.

"We're not ready to put a timeline out there," Mattingly said. "The next few days will be a little barrier to cross.

"We're not going to let him go out unless he's 100 percent. If he's not 100 percent, we're going to hold him back."

Kemp may return for Dodgers' home opener

Matt Kemp on his injuries, 2014 expectations

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers' home opener against the Giants on April 4 could double as a homecoming of sorts, and not only because that may be Clayton Kershaw's first regular-season appearance on the mainland: There is a good chance it also will mean the return of Matt Kemp.

The Dodgers' outfielder, recovering from surgery on a major weight-bearing bone in his left ankle, Friday pronounced himself all the way back and ready to roll. He's eligible to come off the disabled list on April 4.

"It's progressed a lot since we left Australia," Kemp said as the Dodgers ran through batting practice before their second Freeway Series game with the Angels in Dodger Stadium. "I'm ready to go. When the time comes, if they want to put me in the lineup I'm ready to go."

Kemp noted his workload with the Minor Leaguers at the Dodgers' spring base in Arizona while the club was opening the season against the D-backs in Australia, proudly pointing out that he swiped a couple of bags amid all of his other activities.

Given his ankle and hamstring issues of the past, in addition to his shoulder injury, that is no small feat. The more he ran, he said, the more began to feel like his old self.

"I feel really good," Kemp said. "Really confident. It's going to be fun to get back out here with the guys playing. It's been a while."

He added: "There's been a lot of rehab going on the past year and a half. If it's not one thing, it's another thing. It's time to play baseball."

That's something that Kemp has been able to do in only 179 games over the past two seasons after playing in 161 in 2011, 162 in '10 and 159 in '09.

"I'm going to stay positive," Kemp said. "It is what it is. If I start out slow, there's 162 games."

Beckett appears to have stranglehold on rotation spot

Josh Beckett gives an update on his health, return

LOS ANGELES -- Given their spate of early season off-days, the Dodgers will not need a fifth starter until April 19. And when that day comes, a familiar face appears ready to step back into the rotation: Josh Beckett.

In fact, Beckett is doing so well that if Clayton Kershaw isn't ready to pitch by next weekend, the veteran right-hander could be called upon.

"He threw five innings the other night," manager Don Mattingly said. "We feel like he's ready to pitch. We'd prefer him to be built up a little further, but he could help us."

Beckett, who was in slowdown mode earlier this spring because of his physical issues (rib surgery, thumb), essentially was in competition with veteran Paul Maholm for the fifth-starter role. Though, as long as Beckett was OK physically, he had the clear advantage.

Worth noting

Adrian Gonzalez was back in the Dodgers' lineup on Friday night after leaving Thursday night's game with a bruised elbow. There was minor swelling after he was hit by a Hector Santiago fastball, but no lasting damage.

"It made my swing a little shorter," Gonzalez joked. "I felt pretty good in the cage."

On the other hand, Thursday's early departure allowed Gonzalez to watch the end of San Diego State's NCAA tournament loss to Arizona. Gonzalez, a San Diego native, committed to play baseball at SDSU before the then-Florida Marlins picked him first overall in the 2000 Draft.

Zach Lee replaced Stephen Fife as the Dodgers' starter Friday night against the Angels. Fife was ill and spent Thursday night throwing up, and Mattingly said the Dodgers decided they didn't need that in the clubhouse.

"The decision made was: Do you really want a guy throwing up in your clubhouse?" Mattingly said. "Next thing you know, you've got a whole club like that."