Perhaps wanting to ration his pitches for another start five days away, Mattingly lifted Hyun-Jin Ryu after seven innings of a dominant scoreless start, turning over the game to a bullpen that is supposed to be the team's greatest asset.
"It's what we want," Mattingly said of the roster blueprint, a supposedly airtight bullpen to hand late-inning leads.
But Dodgers setup reliever Brian Wilson allowed a pinch-hit homer by Seth Smith and three runs overall in the eighth, wasting what should have been Ryu's second win in as many games.
Ryu threw seven scoreless innings with seven strikeouts, retiring 16 consecutive batters at one point, subbing for the injured Clayton Kershaw after previously subbing for the injured Zack Greinke.
"I think you're going to have to be aggressive with a guy like that," said San Diego manager Bud Black. "He had four pitches working from the fourth inning on, and we had a tough time with him."
But Smith, 0-for-5 with three strikeouts previously against Wilson, homered to lead off the eighth and Ryu's seven innings were down the drain.
"It's more difficult to deal with knowing Ryu pitched a marvelous game," said Wilson, who allowed only one earned run in 13 2/3 innings with the Dodgers after signing midway through last season.
"It's a hard one to swallow. I wasn't able to get ahead of the hitters and make the proper pitches. I'm not particularly used to having one of those nights. I just wasn't able to get ahead, and they took advantage."
Wilson walked pinch-hitter Yasmani Grandal and then booted Everth Cabrera's sacrifice bunt. Chris Denorfia bunted through a strike, but Grandal took off for third. On the bunt defense, third baseman Juan Uribe charged, then was late retreating to the bag, and Grandal was credited with a steal of third.
"We've got to get back to third," said Mattingly. "He was caught too far off when he bunts through."
That play was the crusher. Needing to cut off the tiebreaking run at the plate, the Dodgers drew the infield in and conceded Cabrera second base, strategy that backfired into an insurance run when Denorfia lined a back-breaking two-run single to center.
"We need to let this one hurt for a while," said catcher A.J. Ellis, who had two of the Dodgers' four hits. "We can't make mistakes and win games, let alone anything big."
The lone Dodgers run scored in the top of the fifth inning off San Diego starter Andrew Cashner, who was good enough to be compared to Kershaw by Ellis.
Carl Crawford, who missed the Australia trip for the birth of his son, provided the clutch RBI with a two-out single. Crawford struck out his other three at-bats. In fact, the heart of the Dodgers' batting order -- Yasiel Puig, Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier -- went 0-for-15.
Apparently, that split toenail Ryu suffered in a baserunning mishap in Australia last weekend really was healed. Ryu allowed five of the first seven batters he faced to reach base, but he escaped without a run and dug in tough, adding seven scoreless innings to the five he threw at Sydney Cricket Ground.
Although it came more than a week after the Dodgers' season opener in Sydney, this was an opener nonetheless for ESPN and the Padres. Ryu was up to the occasion, having made five Opening Day starts in Korea.
Ryu said a 1-2-3 double play that allowed him to escape a first-inning jam was "crucial," but Ellis said a new grip on the curveball deeper in his hand has turned that pitch into something special, and Ryu's improvement in the second inning coincided with calling more of them.
"It doesn't have the loop of the old one; it stays on the plane with his other three [pitches]," said Ellis. "It adds deception."
Conceivably, Ryu could also start the Dodgers' home opener Friday on regular rest, giving him starts in three of the first six games of the season, a feat the Dodgers didn't want Kershaw to attempt. Ryu threw 88 pitches. Despite being headed toward a shutout, Ryu said he asked out of the game because "I got a little tired."
"We were at his limit tonight," said Mattingly, a hint that the pregame plan was to conserve Ryu's pitch count as, for the second consecutive season, the starting rotation is under an injury siege. "We'll see how Hyun-Jin bounces back, then make a decision on Friday and a decision on Saturday's game."
Cashner retired seven straight from the last out in the second inning until Ellis' second hit of the game with one out in the fifth. Dee Gordon followed with a walk and Ellis was erased at third base on Ryu's sacrifice bunt attempt to bring up Crawford, who laced a single over third base to score Gordon.