Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis is trying to get used to backup role

Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis gets to start for the first time in current homestand

On the sixth game of the homestand, A.J. Ellis finally started a game.

"It's amazing how much fresher you feel," he said before the Dodgers' 7-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies on Saturday at Dodger Stadium.

Ellis laughed.

Not everyone would have.

Ellis was the Dodgers' everyday catcher for the previous three seasons. He was behind the plate when the team was in the playoffs in each of the last two years. He caught Clayton Kershaw's no-hitter last season.

Now, at 33, he's backing up Yasmani Grandal, who was acquired as part of an off-season trade that sent Matt Kemp to the San Diego Padres.

Of the Dodgers' 36 games, Ellis has started 10.

Grandal was in the lineup for the previous five games of the homestand. The newcomer started the season slowly and when he started to hit, Manager Don Mattingly said he wanted to continue playing him to build his confidence.

The plan worked.

In the two weeks leading up to Saturday, Grandal batted .486 with three home runs and 14 runs batted in. He raised his average from .179 to .297.

Ever gracious, Ellis said he understood.

"This is a guy who's swinging the bat as well as anybody in the National League right now," he said. "He certainly helped carry us through this road trip. We need his bat in the middle of the lineup, his versatility as a switch hitter."

Ellis said in spring training that he would accept whatever role was assigned to him, if it meant helping the Dodgers win. By living up to his words, he has diffused a potentially awkward situation.

"That gives you a sense of what he's about," Grandal said. "He's a great person."

Ellis has become something a mentor to the 26-year-old Grandal, often reviewing the game from the previous day with him. Ellis continues to be a significant part of the meetings in which the pitchers discuss how they will attack opposing hitters.

But Mattingly said he wants Ellis to know he isn't being taken for granted.

"I just try to be mindful that this guy was a starting catcher last year and he's become more of the second catcher," Mattingly said. "I want to make sure he doesn't feel slighted in any way."

Mattingly recently met with Ellis to inform him he would have opportunities to catch in the coming week or so.

"The last 10 days because Yas kind of caught fire, I wanted him to kind of build on that," Mattingly said. "Now, with the days that are coming up, with the pitching and the night-day things that we have going on, A.J.'s going to be a bigger part of the mix in this next section."

Ellis acknowledges he is still figuring out how he can be most effective in his reduced role.

Ellis was hitless in three at-bats Saturday and is batting .125. He has no home runs and one run batted in in 32 at-bats this season.

"It's definitely a transition," Ellis said. "You're just trying to figure out a routine and how you're going to fit on this team to do the No. 1 thing, that's win games."

The last time he was in this kind of position, Russell Martin was still on the Dodgers.

"You're just trying to remember the way it used to be," Ellis said. "I can't remember the last time I had two days off in a row. Now, you try to go back to what it was like when Russell was here."

At that time, Ellis was viewed as a nonprospect, someone who could possibly be a backup but not much more. If the way his career has unfolded has taught him anything, it's that labels can change.

"The main thing in this game, you never know, you have to stay read," he said. "You have to be ready to play when you're calling upon."

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