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Martin's loss weighs on Dodgers, causes early-season catching quandary

March 7, 2010 | 11:31 am
Russell Russell Martin is out four to six weeks with a strained abductor muscle. and immediately you wonder:

Does it have anything to do with that curious 25-pound weight gain?

Everyone denies it, but really, what else are they going to say? That’s a lot of weight to add in a short period of time and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suspect his body would have some difficulty adjusting.

Team trainer Stan Conte told reporters in Phoenix it was unrelated and the injury could have happened to anyone. No doubt it could have, but the timing looks terrible.

The new Martin couldn’t get out of the first game of spring without suffering a damaging injury.

Now the Dodgers are apparently going to rely mostly on unproven A.J. Ellis to fill in, while Martin heals and then tries to round into playing form without much of a spring training.

"A.J. Ellis will get the bulk of the catching," manager Joe Torre said. "We have to figure out the right balance between A.J. and [Brad] Ausmus. I don't want to run Ausmus into the ground.’’

Ellis is 28, has been in the team’s minor league system for seven years and is not exactly a major prospect. In 13 major-league at-bats, he has one hit. He has a career .278 batting average in the minors, with no power.

He does reportedly handle pitchers well, and he’ll need to make his mark there and defensively. Offensive output from him will have to be looked at as a bonus.

Ausmus, of course, has all kinds of experience. The kind you would expect from someone who will be 41 next month and starting his 18th major-league season.

Ausmus hit .295 last year in his first season as Martin’s backup, but he started only 27 games. It seemed close to an ideal blend for him. He is a three-time Gold Glove winner behind the plate.

Torre will have to fight the temptation to play Ausmus more and force feed Ellis. The Dodgers’ other catching prospect is Lucas May, 25, who also has been in the minors for seven years and has some pop but has never played above Double-A.

Martin, however, told reporters he planned to be ready by opening day, which sounded like a combination of determination and naiveté.

"I'm planning to be ready to go," Martin said. "I'm not planning on missing the first game of the season."

You like that kind of attitude, but this is not the kind of injury the Dodgers would want to have linger over a long season. Better to sacrifice a few early weeks and listen to the training staff's advice on whether to back off.

"It’s going to be extremely tough for me," he said.

Meanwhile, Martin is already planning to add more muscle while the injury heals.

"I know my guns are going to be even bigger," he said.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: Russell Martin. Credit: Alex Gallardo / Los Angeles Times

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