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A.J. Ellis getting hot at right time for Dodgers

Kevork Djansezian

ST. LOUIS -- One of the pleasant surprises of the first two games of the playoffs for the Dodgers has been the production at the plate by catcher A.J. Ellis, who looks to be finally healthy after a season dealing with leg problems.

"It's amazing when the playoffs come how everybody's aches and bruises and pains kind of goes away," Ellis said on Saturday. "You're rejuvenated, re-energized. And I feel great right now."

Ellis hit a double to start a two-run rally in the third inning that gave the Dodgers an early lead in Game 2, and is 5-for-8 (.625) with a home run and a double so far in the NLDS.

It took Ellis 30 plate appearances to get his final five hits of the regular season, a trying year offensively at the plate. He hit .191/.323/.254 in 93 games and 347 plate appearances, just the sixth Dodger in the last 100 years to bat under .200 in at least 300 plate appearances, and the first since John Shelby in 1989.

Fun aside: the 1988 World Series winners had two of the players on this list, with shortstop Alfredo Griffin hitting .199 in 354 plate appearances and power-hitting outfielder Mike Davis hitting .196 with two home runs in 310 PA.

Ellis thanks to his continually solid walk rate - a career-high 15.3 percent - his OPS+ was down, a career-low 68, but not as relatively bad as the batting average. There have been 48 sub-70 OPS+ by a Dodger in the last 100 years, including the year the middle infield of Cesar Izturis (60 OPS+) and Alex Cora (67) both played enough to qualify for the batting title, for arguably the worst Dodgers offense in history (2003).

But Ellis was hampered by a left knee injury, missing nearly six weeks after surgery to repair a torn meniscus in April, then spent time on the disabled list in May and June after spraining his right ankle.

"Once he gets back from [the ankle injury], about eight to ten days later he gets hit right on the knee on foul tips two days in a row, same spot," manager Don Mattingly said. "A.J. had a tough year of getting his legs underneath him, as far as being able to continue to work, continue to do a maintenance program, continue to do his weights. So to me he didn't really have his legs all year long.

"Over probably the last probably eight weeks, six to eight weeks, he's been able to kind of continue to do a weight program, strengthening program where he's able to do his maintenance and to me that's why his swing just kind of is getting better and better."

Ellis did hit two home runs on Sept. 19 in a game at Wrigley Field - two of his three home runs in the regular season - but those were his only extra-base hits in his last 27 games, and 97 plate appearances of the season.

But with his career-high-tying four hits, including a home run in Game 1, Ellis continued what is becoming a tradition. The catcher has an eight-game postseason hitting streak and has at least one hit in 11 of his 12 career playoff games.

Ellis is hitting .385/.455/.718 with eight extra-base hits in 12 postseason games. That's the third-most extra-base hits by a Dodgers catcher in postseason history.

"A.J.'s a guy for me that, he's going to be good in these type of scenarios, because he's going to know pitching and know what they're trying to do," Mattingly said. "He's going to have a game plan, and he's going to stick with it."

He has never faced John Lackey, slated to start Game 3 for the Cardinals.