Ellis finds stroke at precisely the right time

With Grandal mired in slump, Dodgers backup catcher gets hot at plate

Ellis finds stroke at precisely the right time

SAN DIEGO -- There's a case to be made that A.J. Ellis -- and his .875 OPS in the season's second half -- should be receiving more playing time for the Dodgers. After all, starting catcher Yasmani Grandal is mired in one of the worst slumps of his career, hitless in 33 at-bats.

After Sunday's 5-1 win over the Dodgers, Ellis wasn't about to make that case himself.

"We have a system," Ellis said. "And it's paid off. We're in first place in the division. At different parts of the year, both of us have been very successful. When I was really struggling early in the year, [Grandal] picked me up and picked up the whole team.

"He's an offensive force on our club, and there's not a person in this clubhouse that doubts he's going to get back to that."

On Sunday, however, Ellis was the Dodgers' offensive force. He went 2-for-3 with a walk and put the Dodgers on top for good with a go-ahead single in the sixth.

"Early in the year it was a little bit of a struggle, the lack of playing time," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of Ellis. "As he got accustomed to that and kind of accepted it, it seems like he's kind of taken off."

Ellis pointed to one at-bat as the turning point of his offensive season -- an at-bat in mid-June during the Dodgers' last trip to Petco Park. Ellis lined a single up the middle off Padres right-hander Odrisamer Despaigne, and he said something clicked.

Since then, Ellis says he's learned exactly how to prepare for a role where he starts only once or twice per week.

"When you're playing sporadic playing time -- it's really, really difficult," Ellis said. "I learned that the hard way in April and May. I just feel like it's been about making things simple."

Behind the plate, Ellis has been solid as ever. He has worked especially well with Sunday's starter Brett Anderson, who owns a 2.70 ERA when pitching to Ellis.

Ellis has also handled Clayton Kershaw well, but Mattingly reiterated, "We want our [pitchers] to have confidence in both guys."

When asked whether Ellis' recent offense might merit more playing time, the Dodgers skipper skirted the question.

"We really have a lot of confidence in Yaz and what he can do," Mattingly said. "We'll just assess it day-to-day."

That's just fine with Ellis.

"This time of year, it's not about who plays or who gets the hit or who scores the runs," Ellis said. "It's about getting the win and, at the end of the game, shaking hands.

"A lot of us who have been here the last couple of years, we want to take that next step. We've got some regular-season work to finish. Then, if we're fortunate, we'll have a chance to make amends for the last couple seasons [in the postseason]."

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.