A.J. Ellis, now sharing catcher role, is focused on World Series

Title of World Series champion catcher is more important than title of starting catcher for A.J. Ellis

A.J. Ellis laughed when asked about the Dodgers trading for another catcher in the off-season.

"Somebody told me that if you get a question you don't feel comfortable with," he said, "ask a question back."

So he did.

"How do you feel about it?" he asked.

Ellis laughed again, but then turned serious.

"You know, in all honesty, I don't need a title of starting catcher or a title of backup catcher," Ellis said. "I want to have the title of World Series champion catcher."

As the Dodgers' pitchers and catchers had their first workout of spring training Friday, how playing time will be divided between Ellis and newcomer Yasmani Grandal was a question left unanswered.

Ellis, who turns 34 in April, has been the Dodgers' starting catcher for the last three seasons. Grandal, 26, is expected to take over as the team's primary catcher this season.

Grandal hit 15 home runs last season and was the centerpiece of a three-player package the Dodgers received in a trade that sent Matt Kemp to the San Diego Padres.

Ellis said he would accept whatever role assigned to him.

Recalling the nights the Dodgers were eliminated from the playoffs the last two seasons, Ellis said, "I've held my head in my hands for two straight years in a St. Louis clubhouse. I know the way that feels and I know the pit that you feel in your stomach for the weeks to follow, especially when there's teams out there playing baseball that you know in your heart you're better than.

"I don't want to feel that again. If that's me taking my mask off and running and celebrating with my teammates or if that's me running from the dugout and celebrating with my teammates, that's all I care about."

Club executives say Ellis remains in their plans.

"There are a lot of games to go around," said Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers' president of baseball operations. "We have two guys in A.J. and Grandal that really complement each other very well. There's nothing that's going to come out of this camp, where we say, 'OK, this guy's going to catch 72% of the time.' "

The switch-hitting Grandal is particularly potent batting left-handed, and Ellis hits left-handed pitchers well, Friedman noted. That could mean the catchers will platoon, with Grandal starting most games against right-handers and Ellis against left-handers.

Ellis said no one has talked to him about playing time, but he appreciated that Friedman called him before the team's acquisition of Grandal was announced.

Ellis said he feels considerably stronger than he did last spring, when he reported to camp with a leaner frame to lessen the burden on his troublesome left knee. That knee went out on him in the first month of the season, requiring surgery.

Ellis returned to the lineup in May. But the lower half of his body was weak and his offensive production suffered. Ellis batted only .191 in 93 games.

The knee is now repaired, which allowed him to expand his off-season training program.

"I'm really excited about how the winter went from a physical standpoint," he said. "I really wanted to strengthen my legs, which is the biggest thing."

His improved physical condition allowed him to work more on his hitting and catching.

Ellis, who makes his off-season home in Wisconsin, said he worked with Milwaukee Brewers bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel on pitch framing, the subtle art of turning borderline pitches into called strikes. Ellis has ranked below average in that category, according to some metrics.

"Hopefully, that's an area I can turn from a weakness to a strength," he said.

Ellis also wants to help Grandal develop, much as veterans such as Brad Ausmus and Matt Treanor once helped him.

Though Friedman and Manager Don Mattingly have said they don't believe in assigning personal catchers to pitchers, Ellis said he would like to catch Clayton Kershaw as much as possible. Ellis caught Kershaw's bullpen session Friday.

"We've had a lot of special moments on the field together and, obviously, those are highlights of my career individually, being on the field 60 feet away from him," Ellis said. "I'm going to want to, and fight for, every opportunity to catch him."

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Twitter: @dylanohernandez

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