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The rise of A.J. Ellis: rookie catcher's play making pitch for bigger role next season

September 18, 2010 |  6:23 pm

Ellis_300 He’s been hanging around the minors for seven years. Has no particular power. Owns a career .278 batting average in the minor leagues. He’s 29, a little old to be breaking into the bigs.

There’s not a lot about rookie catcher A.J. Ellis that screams he’s ready to make some serious noise at the major league level.

Yet rest assured, the likable Ellis is getting the attention of Dodgers’ management, present and future.

Ellis had three hits for the second consecutive day on Saturday. He has hit safely in 10 of his last 14 at-bats, raising his .174 average on Aug. 18 to .265.

'"It’s really fun to watch when you see a 'lifer’ go out there, and you know he’s a backup catcher, and he wants more than that,’’ said Dodgers Manager Joe Torre.

Ellis was always considered a strong defensive catcher. His offensive game is on the rise through simple hard work, taking extra batting practice daily with hitting instructors Don Mattingly and Jeff Pentland.

"He has been working his tail off with these guys," Torre said. "I mean, I’m the manager who sent him out after he had a three-hit game at the end of August when we got (Rod) Barajas.

"The biggest problem he had with his offense was his swing was long, and when it was long, it was slow. Now he’s shorter and quicker, and that’s just from flat out hard work. He’s the first guy here and in that cage."

With the ability of Russell Martin to return from his hip injury and catch uncertain -- or if with his offensive decline the willingness of the Dodgers to pay him $6 million next season in question -- there could be an opening for regular playing time.

Barajas will be a free agent at the end of the season, but would like to return to the Dodgers. Barajas has power, and if the Dodgers elect to sign him, are looking at the possibility of pairing him with Ellis.

Ellis said he’s not trying to use these final weeks of the season as some kind of audition for next season, but how could he not be?

"That’s not even a question in my mind," Ellis said. "I’m just really trying to keep improving. I know I have a long way to go offensively and defensively, so it’s important to make the most of every opportunity.

"As happy as I am about the offense the past couple of days, I’m just as disappointed with the outcome and the way we’ve pitched the last two days. Because I take responsibility for that. It’s my job as a catcher to get pitchers through tough spots and tough innings."

In the process, of course, it doesn’t hurt to be staking a claim on next season.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: Catcher A.J. Ellis waits his turn for batting practice. Credit: Kirby Lee / US Presswire

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