SAN FRANCISCO -- Infielder Mark Ellis could begin a Minor League rehab assignment as early as Friday and return to the Dodgers lineup next week and Matt Kemp should be right behind him, manager Don Mattingly indicated.

Ellis underwent emergency surgery May 19 to relieve pressure from swelling in his lower left leg after a take-out slide by St. Louis baserunner Tyler Greene.

"It sounds like he's getting close to going out," said Mattingly, who added that Ellis would play four or five games with around 20 at-bats before being activated. "It seems like there's a chance of getting him back before the [All-Star] break."

The Dodgers are 22-11 with Ellis starting at second base and batting second. They are 21-21 when he isn't.

Mattingly said Kemp (hamstring) is a few days behind Ellis. Mattingly has said Kemp won't play in the All-Star Game (he's the leading outfield vote-getter) if he hasn't first returned to the Dodgers' lineup. Kemp hasn't ruled that out.

Ethier to get MRI after exiting with oblique strain

SAN FRANCISCO -- Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier strained a left oblique muscle on a checked swing in a first-inning at-bat Wednesday and will undergo an MRI on Thursday to determine the severity.

Officially, he was listed as day to day, although manager Don Mattingly said when he hears "oblique," he prepares for 20 days. Ethier was slightly more hopeful.

"Maybe this is one bullet we can dodge from somebody getting hurt this year," he said after the Dodgers' 3-0 loss to the Giants. "Maybe in a day or two I'll be back at it.

"I think getting shut out three in a row hurts more than this does. This is about as disappointed as I've ever been."

Ethier explained that he felt something when he took a checked swing on a 2-2 changeup from Tim Lincecum for a ball. He checked on the next pitch, a slider down and in for the walk, and to make sure he didn't get charged with a swing, recoiled his bat back quickly and felt a "cramp or a tight pinch" in his side "like you'd get from laughing."

He stayed in the game and was erased on Juan Rivera's double-play grounder.

"I told myself it would get going when I took warmups in the outfield, but Donnie said no," Ethier said. "It was mostly precautionary -- let's not make it worse."

Ethier, hitting .291 and the league leader in RBIs until last weekend, said he's never had a pulled oblique muscle and was told this one was unusual on the left side for a left-handed hitter. Hitters usually get oblique injuries on the side nearest the pitcher.

Now Ethier faces the prospect of joining Matt Kemp (strained hamstring) as a cheerleader from the sidelines, the Dodgers' one-two punch leaving the offense punchless.

"Any time you can't go out there and you're one of the guys they look at, you're not fulfilling your role," said Ethier, who played most of last year with a bum knee that required surgery. "Sometimes you don't feel well and you go out and play when a lot of guys are banged up, then all of a sudden this bites you. It's little things that are frustrating."

Teammate Jerry Hairston said now more than ever the Dodgers must play to the clubhouse motto.

"We have to just find a way," he said. "We can't sugarcoat it. It is what it is. Hopefully he just felt a little tweak. If not, we just find a way. You can't make excuses, not up here."

Struggling Uribe in lineup for finale, but Loney out

SAN FRANCISCO -- Juan Uribe and his .217 batting average were back in the Dodgers' lineup Wednesday, but James Loney and his .244 average were not as manager Don Mattingly continued his lineup roulette in the midst of the offensive tailspin.

Mattingly conceded he wasn't sure what to expect from Uribe, who returned June 11 from a month on the disabled list with an arthritic left wrist. Uribe is 1-for-18 on the current trip. In nearly 1 1/2 injury-marred seasons with the Dodgers, Uribe has five home runs after slugging 24 for the Giants in 2010 before signing a three-year deal with Los Angeles.

"Since he came back [from the wrist injury], he hasn't looked as good," Mattingly said of Uribe. "I need Juan to play better. I believe it's better than this. I believe in hard work, not giving up on guys or in guys giving up on themselves."

It's no secret the Dodgers are looking for replacements at both infield corners. At first base, however, they can bring Juan Rivera in from left field and start Bobby Abreu in left field, as they did Wednesday. At third base, they have no productive options other than Josh Fields, who has a .331 average and .516 slugging percentage for Triple-A Albuquerque.

The Dodgers are 19-12 when Uribe starts at third base. They are 12-5 when Adam Kennedy starts there.

Signed Montana jersey makes Kemp's day

SAN FRANCISCO -- During Monday night's Dodgers-Giants game, Matt Kemp made eye contact with legendary quarterback Joe Montana, who was sitting in the front row next to the Dodgers' dugout.

While making a throwing motion, Kemp mouthed to Montana: "I want a signed football."

To which Montana mouthed in reply: "I want a signed bat."

To which both smiled.

When Kemp arrived in the clubhouse Tuesday, he was greeted by a Joe Montana San Francisco 49ers jersey, with the inscription: "Enjoy watching you work. The best. Joe Montana."

"I'm so happy I want to cry," Kemp said. "I'm the biggest 49er fan. I had an uncle who took me everywhere and he was a big 49er fan. I'm the biggest Joe Montana fan."

Kemp said he will respond with a signed Dodgers jersey for Montana.