Crawford returns to crowded OF mix, as Dodgers open set with Giants

With Carl Crawford set to return from the disabled list, manager Don Mattingly has his hands full trying to find playing time for all four of his outfielders.

Mattingly won't get much sympathy from the rest of the National League West and certainly not from the struggling San Francisco Giants, who return home to begin a three-game series with the Dodgers on Friday night.

When the Dodgers lost both Matt Kemp and Crawford to hamstring injuries in early June, rookie outfielder Yasiel Puig was recalled from the minors and has become an overnight sensation, hitting .430 with eight homers and 19 RBI in 29 games.

That was good and fine for the Dodgers, who also have the pricey Andre Either in the outfield, when they were shorthanded, but Kemp has been back in action since June 25 and Crawford is set to return to the roster for the first time since June 1 because of his strained left hamstring.

That means Mattingly, who does not have the luxury of the designated hitter, must find playing time for all four of his outfielders, with the 22-year-old Puig not expected to have his playing time cut much.

Kemp, Either and Crawford are making a combined $53.5 million this season, so one will likely become an expensive bench option on any given night.

"It will be a little sticky, honestly," said Mattingly. "Only three spots and four guys, and one of the four (Puig) gets three hits a night right now. That kind of changes things. It's going to be difficult. We have four guys that can really play."

Mattingly must also make sure not to mess with the momentum his offense is on right now. The Dodgers have logged at least 13 hits in four straight games and are batting .315 over their last nine with 11 homers and 50 runs scored.

Los Angeles is coming off just its second loss in 12 games as it dropped Thursday's decision in Colorado by a 9-5 margin. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez did push his hitting streak to 15 straight games, while Adrian Gonzalez and Kemp both homered.

The Dodgers have leapt into second place in the NL West, 2 1/2 games behind Arizona, while the defending champion San Francisco Giants have fallen into a tie for last place at 4 1/2 games off the pace.

The Giants have lost 11 of their last 13 and have been held to a pair of runs or less in nine of their last 11 contests, hitting .197 over that time. They return home following a 1-8 road trip, with the finale of a four-game series with Cincinnati postponed on Thursday due to rain.

San Francisco was outscored 14-3 in the first three games of the series, getting no-hit by the Reds' Homer Bailey on Tuesday.

The return to form by Matt Cain would be a big boost for San Francisco and he will start tonight's opener.

A 16-game winner last season, Cain is just 5-4 with a 4.29 earned run average through 17 starts this year, but was in ace form last time out.

In Colorado on Saturday, Cain hurled eight innings of one-run ball. He scattered three hits and a walk while retiring the final 20 batters faced, but did not factor into a 2-1 loss. That left the right-hander with just one victory in his past six starts even though he has allowed more than three runs in just one of those outings.

Cain, 28, is 5-8 with a 3.17 ERA in 25 career meetings with the Dodgers, but has allowed one run in 13 1/3 innings over two starts against them this year.

Rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu tries to beat the Giants for the first time in his career and extend his recent string of strong starts since last facing the division rivals.

Ryu is 0-2 with a 2.84 ERA in three meetings with the Giants, giving up four runs over six innings of a setback the last time he faced them on May 5 in San Francisco.

The left-hander has not allowed more than three earned runs in nine straight outings since, going 3-1 with a 2.20 ERA. However, he has not factored into the outcome of his past two appearances despite yielding just three runs.

Ryu was touched for a pair of solo homers among the seven hits he allowed over seven innings versus Philadelphia on Saturday. The 26-year-old kept his team in the game long enough for an eventual 4-3 win and he stands 6-3 on the season with a 2.83 ERA through 16 starts.

The Dodgers had lost five of their first six meetings with the Giants this year, getting swept in three games in San Francisco from May 3-5, before winning all three contests of a series in L.A. from June 24-26.