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A.J. Ellis is doing well in backup role with Dodgers

A.J. Ellis is doing well in backup role with Dodgers
Dodgers'A.J. Ellis hits a two-run home run in the fourth inning against the Cincinnati Redson Wednesday. (Joe Robbins / Getty Images)

With another overmatched rookie pitcher on the mound Wednesday night for the Cincinnati Reds, the Dodgers powered their way to a 7-4 victory at Great American Ball Park behind three fourth-inning home runs.

Right fielder Yasiel Puig hit his 11th and left fielder Scott Van Slyke his fifth.

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The other home run given up by left-hander David Holmberg was hit by A.J. Ellis, who has experienced an offensive resurgence in recent months while becoming acclimated to his new role.

The Dodgers' starting catcher for the previous four seasons, the 34-year-old Ellis has backed up Yasmani Grandal this season.

"It was definitely an adjustment for him," Manager Don Mattingly said. "You could almost see him get comfortable with that role and then his at-bats just kept getting better and better."

Although Ellis has played considerably less this season, starting only 37 games, he learned there were positive aspects to being a reserve.

He has more time to study scouting reports and talk to pitchers. He catches the bullpen sessions of the team's starting pitchers, something he rarely did when he was playing every day.

He is also healthy.

"Every time I take the field, it's usually coming off at least one day off, in some cases more," Ellis said. "You feel fresher when you play in those scenarios."

There was a downside to that, however.

"My bad habit is when I have a lot of free time, I want to get in the batting cage and tinker and tinker and tinker, try to make my swing the best I can," he said. "The problem with that is you're in between swings every time you go to the plate."

He was batting .137 through the first two months this season. Then in mid-June, he decided to simplify his approach.

He knew he was on the right track when he singled up the middle in a game in San Diego.

"Last year and this year, I don't know if it was health or just bad swing mechanics, but I was hitting a lot of groundballs to the left side of the infield on pitches I traditionally stayed up the middle on or hit the other way," he said.

Starting with that June 12 games against the Padres, Ellis has batted .310. His four home runs were hit after that, including the two-run home run in the fourth inning Wednesday that was part of five-run inning that increased the Dodgers lead to 6-0.

But there would be some scares.

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With two outs in the seventh inning, Dodgers starter Brett Anderson gave up a single to center field by third baseman Todd Frazier.

That was followed by a flare to right field by Jay Bruce that was tracked by second baseman Chase Utley, who reached up with his glove, only to drop the ball.

Frazier scored on a single by Ivan DeJesus Jr. Anderson then uncorked a wild pitch to Brayan Pena that allowed Bruce to reach third base and DeJesus second. They scored on Pena's single.

Suddenly, the Dodgers' lead was down to 6-3.

Anderson was frustrated.

"It's one of those outings I felt I could have gone seven or eight shutout and made it a little bit easier in our bullpen," he said.

The left-hander was replaced by Jim Johnson, who struck out pinch-hitter Ryan LaMarre to end the inning.

However, Johnson gave up a leadoff double in the eighth inning to Jason Bourgeois, who later scored. With two outs and the Dodgers lead reduced to 6-4, the Reds loaded the bases for Bruce.

Mattingly called on left-hander Luis Avilan, who struck out Bruce with a curveball Tuesday night in a crucial situation. Avilan struck out Bruce again, only this time with a fastball.

"Today, we thought to throw just fastballs because he was probably thinking about the curveball," Avilan said.

Avilan, acquired from the Atlanta Braves leading up to the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, said he likes pitching with men on base.

"That's the part I love about being a reliever, coming in with men on base, tough situations," Avilan said.

"I remember when I used to be a starter, I used to get in trouble in the first couple innings because, for me, it was so boring."

Up next

Right-hander Zack Greinke (13-3, 1.67 ERA) will face right-hander Anthony DeSclafani (7-9, 3.97) and the Reds on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. PDT. TV: SportsNet LA; Radio: 570, 1020.

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