LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis homered for a second straight start on Sunday, continuing an offensive groove that has lasted for nearly seven weeks, as the veteran backstop has grown more accustomed to his role as a backup.
"I think he's getting comfortable with his role. I think early on he kind of fought that a bit. He didn't know how much he was going to play or how much," manager Don Mattingly said. "That's kind of settled in, and he knows his role, and in a sense has accepted that."
Ellis' role on the team is clear as the backup to Yasmani Grandal, who will make his first All-Star appearance on Tuesday in Cincinnati. Ellis started five of six games behind the plate when Grandal was on the seven-day concussion disabled list in late May, but both before and after that time the playing time distribution is pretty much the same:
- Through May 22: Grandal 30 starts, Ellis 11
- Since May 30: Grandal 31, Ellis 11, Austin Barnes one
"There was an adjustment period, figuring out the transition," Ellis admitted. "Fortunately, defensively I have felt good all year. The limited amount of playing time keeps you fresh, so when I do catch I have my legs under me. I'm able to move and throw, and do everything I need to do behind the plate, which is first and foremost the most important part of my job."
Ellis has thrown out 13 of 22 would-be base stealers this season, a 59.1-percent success rate that is tops in baseball, much better than his career mark of 32.5 percent or the 25 percent (16-of-64) he threw out in 2014.
But Ellis, who hit just .191/.323/.254 in 2014, got off to a bad start at the plate in 2015. On May 25, Ellis was 5-for-43 with one extra-base hit, a double, hitting just .116/.208/.140.
Since then he is hitting .325/.449/.550, and has reached base via hit or walk in 13 of his last 15 starts, including each of his last nine.
"Offensively it took a while to find something to click, to hold on to. Maybe I was being a little too complicated," Ellis said. "One of my bad habits is when I have idle time I spend too much time in the cage, trying to make my swing better, trying to find one thing to grab on to."
Whatever it is, it's working, as Ellis despite that slow start is now hitting .217/.337/.330 on the season. Considering major league catchers in 2015 are collectively hitting .240/.303/.377, you would gleefully take Ellis' production at catcher, especially from a backup.