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Dodgers' A.J. Ellis knows he has to earn his keep

Los Angeles DodgersSportsMajor League BaseballBaseballA.J. EllisBrian WilsonDon Mattingly

A.J. Ellis is 33, an age at which a player generally has made his reputation. Whether he is an All-Star or a bench player, he is who he is.

Ellis might be an exception to the rule. He has only two full major league seasons to his credit, so he is not sure whether he is an established player or one still trying to prove himself at the major league level.

"That's a great question," he said.

The next few months should go a long way toward providing an answer.

Ellis rejoined the Dodgers lineup Wednesday, five weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery. He has a .143 batting average in 28 at-bats, with no home runs and seven strikeouts. That is too small a sample to mean too much, but Ellis works for a team willing to spend for talent.

Ellis batted .270 with a .786 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) two years ago, his first season as the Dodgers' starting catcher. He batted .238 with a .682 OPS last year.

If this year too closely resembles last year, the Dodgers might think twice about paying $5 million or more for Ellis, no matter how solid his defense and how valued his clubhouse presence. Ellis is making $3.55 million this year, and he is eligible for salary arbitration — that generally means big raises — in each of the next two years.

"You hope you've created enough capital with the ballclub that they respect you, and the way you play the game," Ellis said. "I know the coaches respect that. I also know this is a place where they come to win, and I know it comes down to production."

The Dodgers last season got within two victories of the World Series, for the first time since 1988, with Ellis as their catcher.

"At the end of the day, the most important stat is, what is the team's record on the day I catch?" Ellis said. "That's where I feel you know you have made an impact."

The Dodgers are 4-4 this year when Ellis starts, 18-16 when he does not. In 2013, the Dodgers were 61-49 (.555) when he started, 31-21 (.596) when he did not. In 2012, the Dodgers were 67-61 (.523) when he started, 19-15 (.559) when he did not.

Ellis could find security in that the Dodgers could lack alternatives. The most attractive free agent catcher might be Russell Martin, who made his major league debut for the Dodgers in 2006.

Tim Federowicz, whom the Dodgers had hoped could play every day with Ellis injured, batted .109 in 46 at-bats and was demoted before Ellis returned. There is not a catcher listed among Baseball America's ranking of the top 25 Dodgers prospects.

Wilson cause for 'concern'

Reliever Brian Wilson might be at his best in tight situations, but right now he's not pitching well enough to be in those types of situations.

Manager Don Mattingly feels Wilson subconsciously approaches his relief appearances differently. When the score isn't close, his velocity drops off.

The latest example: Wednesday night's game against the Miami Marlins, when Wilson struggled to hit 90 mph with his fastball during a blowout loss.

"It's almost like he needs that adrenaline," Mattingly said afterward. "These games aren't good for him."

After being just short of remarkable in 18 late-season games for the Dodgers last year — 0.66 earned-run average, 0.79 walks plus hits per inning pitched — Wilson has enjoyed precious few games this season that were good for him. In 16 appearances he has a 10.22 ERA and a 2.43 WHIP.

Although he can dial up his fastball to the mid-90s on occasion, more typically he's in the upper 80s.

"You couldn't see the velocity out there," Mattingly said after Wednesday's game. "Some of those are 88-89, stuff like that, even less. It does concern us a little bit, but then toward the end of the inning, he's dialing it up. The other day he comes out, it's 88-90. By the end of the inning he's throwing 96. But there are concerns."

Wilson was dressed and gone by the time the media were allowed in the clubhouse after Wednesday's game. Wilson did a 15-day stint on the disabled list at the beginning of the season for what the Dodgers said was elbow nerve irritation, but there is no indication that he is currently pitching injured.

"He tells Stan [Conte, head trainer] and all our guys — we check with him all the time — that he's fine," Mattingly said. "He says he's healthy."

Up next

The Dodgers are 7-1 against the Arizona Diamondbacks this season, 15-19 against all other teams. The Dodgers open a three-game series in Arizona on Friday, with Zack Greinke (6-1 record, 2.38 ERA) facing the Diamondbacks' Wade Miley (3-3, 4.82). TV: SportsNet LA. Radio: 570, 1020.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Los Angeles DodgersSportsMajor League BaseballBaseballA.J. EllisBrian WilsonDon Mattingly
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