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Dodgers finally back home in 1st place

Dodgers finally back home in 1st place
Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu works against the San Diego Padres in the first inning of the opening game of Major League baseball in the United States, Sunday, March 30, 2014, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — After opening the season in Australia and San Diego, the Dodgers are finally coming home.

They host the rival San Francisco Giants on Friday, when Hyun-Jin Ryu will make his third start in five games. He replaces scheduled starter Clayton Kershaw, who's on the disabled list for the first time in his career with a strained muscle and is likely to be sidelined for a month or longer.

Los Angeles fans attending the sold out game will get their first up-close look at baseball's highest-paid team, with the Dodgers' $234 million payroll moving them ahead of the second-place New York Yankees.

"The guys are ready to go out there and show them that we can play," second baseman Dee Gordon said. "Big rivals, LA crowd, and I'm happy. It's going to be good."

The Dodgers are coming home leading the NL West with a 4-1 record. The Giants are in second place at 2-1 and will start Ryan Vogelsong.

The Dodgers have been all over the place since leaving spring training in Arizona.

They opened the season last month in Sydney, where they won two games against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Five days after returning home, they played the three-game Freeway Series exhibition against the Angels. Last Sunday, they opened the North American schedule with a loss at San Diego. After taking Monday off, they finished the series with two wins over the Padres before taking Thursday off.

First baseman Adrian Gonzalez said the players were thrown off a bit by all the travel.

"It's just getting your body adjusted again and getting your sleep pattern right. There's definitely a sense of fighting yourself a little bit," he said. "That's why it's so awesome to come back with two victories. You definitely need that adjustment period back."

Dodgers slugger Matt Kemp is expected to make his season debut after rehabbing from left ankle and shoulder operations. He's eager to return after being limited to 279 games over the last two seasons because of injuries.

Kemp will need time to regain his hitting touch, but his presence could bolster an offense that has struggled out of the gate. Andre Ethier, Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez are a combined 8 for 55 (.145), and yet the team has won four out of five.

Kemp's return makes things interesting for manager Don Mattingly, who will juggle playing time for outfielders Kemp, Carl Crawford, Ethier and Yasiel Puig. The Cuban defector, runner-up last year for rookie of the year, is hitting .250 to start his first full season in the majors.

Reliever Brian Wilson has joined Kershaw on the DL with nerve irritation in his right elbow, the same one he's had two Tommy John surgeries on. That leaves Mattingly in need of someone else to pitch the eighth as the setup man for closer Kenley Jansen.

While the Dodgers' offense has yet to fully come alive, their starting pitching has been strong. Free agent acquisition Dan Haren beat the Padres 5-1 on Wednesday in his first start. In five games, the rotation has a combined 0.91 ERA, with 30 strikeouts and seven walks.

"It's nice winning four of five games, and we haven't had a home game yet," Haren said. "I've only been in the Dodgers' clubhouse for two days, really, so it will be nice having a homestand. We've had so many off days and the schedule is crazy. The home opener should be fun, exciting, too."

Dodger fans that aren't at Friday's opener may have a hard time seeing the game. The team's new SportsNetLA TV channel is available in just 30 percent of Los Angeles homes, and those who don't have Time Warner can't get it unless their cable provider has agreed to pay to carry the games.
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