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Yasmani Grandal, A.J. Ellis both healthy, ready to share Dodgers catching load

Yasmani Grandal and A.J. Ellis caught bullpen sessions on Thursday, the first day of pitchers and catchers workouts at Camelback Ranch.
Yasmani Grandal and A.J. Ellis caught bullpen sessions on Thursday, the first day of pitchers and catchers workouts at Camelback Ranch.
Photo: Eric Stephen | True Blue LA

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If there was one thing clear on the first day of pitchers and catchers reporting to camp on Thursday, it was that the Dodgers were completely unworried about the potential playing time split between catchers Yasmani Grandal and A.J. Ellis in 2015.

"Having two catchers is obviously very different from having two first basemen. There are a lot of games to go around. We have two guys in A.J. and Grandal who really complement each other very well," president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. "They give us that really well-rounded tandem behind the plate."

The switch-hitting Grandal in his career has hit .252/.356/.424 against right-handed pitchers, but it won't be a strict platoon with Grandal playing against righties and Ellis against lefties (against whom Ellis is hitting .227/.361/.359 in his career). Friedman and manager Don Mattingly said several factors will determine who is starting each day.

Of the two, Grandal will almost certainly see the majority of playing time behind the plate. He is 7½ years younger than Ellis, has more power, and the Dodgers traded away Matt Kemp in the trade that brought Grandal to Los Angeles.

Both Ellis and Grandal talked to manager Don Mattingly in the offseason, and both said their first priority was winning.

"I have talked to both guys over the winter. Both of them talked about winning, and they're not concerned about how it's going to shake out," Mattingly said. "When you have that scenario, you know it's not going to be a problem."

Ellis, 34 in April, sees the writing on the wall down the road.

"Eventually I'm going to have to transition to someone who plays a little bit less than they even want to," Ellis said. "I've had guys help me and mentored me throughout my career. I think of guys like Brad Ausmus, who took me under his wing, and Matt Treanor, the way I saw him go about his business, and handle being in a secondary role. I just want to be a part of making the Dodgers catching position the best position in baseball.

"I don't need the title of starting catcher, or backup catcher. I want to have the title of World Series champion catcher."

One thing that seems clear is that even if Ellis is technically the backup, Mattingly won't resort to using Ellis is a personal catcher for Clayton Kershaw, or any other pitcher.

"It really does box you in as far as writing a lineup, putting the best club on the field, protecting yourself against an injury here and there, guys needing a day off," Mattingly explained. "There are so many factors that go into that."

Ellis has caught 81 of Kershaw's 93 starts over the last three years. Kershaw's ERA is 1.96 in those games caught by Ellis, and 2.69 in the other 12 starts.

"There is no stat right now for a catcher's value in calling a game," Ellis said, then added with a smile, "People don't like talking about catchers ERA. I like to talk about catchers ERA because I have a pretty good one."

Ellis treasures catching Kershaw but doesn't think he'll be his personal catcher.

"Just knowing Donnie the past few years, I know it always seems to work out that way that I'm back there when he's pitching, but Donnie tries to shy away from that," Ellis said. "Clayton and I have really worked well together. We've had a lot of special moments on the field together. Those are highlights of mine, individually. I'm going to fight for every opportunity to catch him, but at the end of the day Donnie is the one making those decisions."

Kershaw also said it was Mattingly's call who was behind the plate, but when pressed and asked if he felt the need for a personal catcher he said, "I can't answer that."

"I've had a lot of different guys come through here. I have had a lot of good ones, from Russell starting out, to Rod and Dioner Navarro. I've had A.J. for a long time now. Grandal comes with a great reputation of being able to catch the ball, block the ball. It should be good."

For what it's worth (not much!), Ellis is catching Kershaw's first bullpen session of the spring this morning, and catching Juan Nicasio too. Grandal will catch bullpen sessions from Brandon McCarthy and Chris Hatcher.

The other thing Ellis and Grandal have in common this spring aside from putting their egos in check is that both catchers enter spring with healthy legs.

Grandal, 26, had reconstructive surgery on the ACL in his right knee in July 2013, and rushed back by opening day in 2014. He hit .225/.327/.401 with 15 home runs on the season, but was even better in the final three months of the season. From July 1 on, Grandal hit .250/.360/.440 with nine home runs in 68 games.

Healthier legs helped Grandal both at and behind the plate.

"Last year behind the plate was an outlier. He came back from ACL surgery much faster than most people anticipated. You could see it in both halves of the inning, both offensively and defensively," Friedman said. "If you don't have your legs under you, you're going to have a hard time as a catcher. In the second half he got his legs under him, and he took off."

Ellis hit just .191/.323/.254 with three home runs in 93 games. He missed time after surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, and after a right ankle sprain as well.

"Basically the entire season last year, after the surgery and the ankle I was playing catch up all year and losing," he said.

Buoyed by his 7-for-13 performance in the NLDS, including a home run and a double, Ellis was encouraged by Mark McGwire to add power to his offseason workout rather than simply trying to shed weight.

Ellis said he usually takes 4-6 weeks off every offseason, but this winter he took one weekend before beginning his workouts. He was pleased with the results.

"This is the healthiest I've felt coming into a season since before I was a starter back in 2012," Ellis said. "I really wanted to strengthen my legs, which was the biggest thing."

If both are healthy, expect much improvement from the Dodgers catching position in 2015.