A.J. Ellis didn’t have to worry too much about overanalyzing things for the past three years.
As the Dodgers’ starting catcher, he had 100 games or so to prepare for, and any time off was a welcome respite from the grind of the season.
But when Los Angeles acquired the younger Yasmani Grandal from San Diego in the off-season, Ellis suddenly found himself with a far different role.
Through 90 games in 2015, he has played in a third of them, giving him plenty of time to sit on the bench and get into his own head.
“One of my bad habits is when I have idle time, I spend a little too much time in the cage, tinkering and trying to find ways to make my swing better instead of finding one thing to grab onto,” Ellis said.
It showed early in the year. In his first 15 games, he hit .116 with only one extra base hit, a double. His on-base percentage was .208.
“I think that was kind of an adjustment period, just getting used to that,” Ellis said of not starting.
In the meantime, Grandal was putting up impressive numbers, leading all NL catchers in home runs, walks and on base percentage. He also developed a reputation as one of the best catchers in the league when it came to framing strikes.
Then, in early June, Ellis was once more in the cage when something clicked.
“Just really one of those weird things where you just take one swing,” Ellis said. “When you do that and take that into a game and have immediate results, you’re kind of hooked on it. And that’s what happened to me. It keeps it simple for me.”
In his next 15 games, Ellis’s average rose to .325, with five of his 13 hits going for extra bases. His slugging percentage shot from .140 to .611. And in his last two starts, including Sunday’s 4-3 win over the Brewers, he has homered once each game.
Manager Don Mattingly credits the explosion to Ellis becoming more comfortable in his new role with the team. And Ellis certainly does not seem all that worried about getting more playing time.
“I’m just trying to contribute. Everyone’s picking up their games a little bit. It’s that time in the season,” he said.
Throughout, the reduced role has helped Ellis defensively, he said. At 34 years old, he needs rest and recovery to stay sharp and mobile behind the plate.
“When I do catch, I have my legs under me. I’m able to move and throw and do everything I need to do behind the plate, which is first and foremost the most important part of my job,” Ellis said.
That feeling is evident in the numbers. He has just one passed ball on the year, no errors and is throwing out a league and career-high 59% of base stealers.