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Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis making good on his starting goal

A.J. Ellis told Don Mattingly at the end of last season that he wanted to become the Dodgers' starting catcher. All signs this spring point to that becoming reality.

March 24, 2012|By Dylan Hernandez

Reporting from Phoenix -- A.J. Ellis walked into Manager Don Mattingly's office at the end of last season to tell him something.

"I want to let you know I want to be your opening-day catcher," Ellis said.

The 30-year-old career minor leaguer, who is on the verge of fulfilling his goal, recalled his conversation with Mattingly after the Dodgers' 5-4 victory over the Cleveland Indians in which he was one for three with a double.

"I wanted to make sure he knew, and the organization knew, that I took this seriously," Ellis said.

The pitchers have learned that too.

The Dodgers have two new starting pitchers, Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano. Ellis has made great efforts to get to learn their tendencies.

"A.J. has been great," Capuano said. "I told him a couple things that I need out of a catcher, and he's been right on them, whatever cues that work for me to get back on track. He's gone out of his way to do everything right."

This spring has been significantly different than previous ones for Ellis. Because he is the projected starter, his schedule is set. When he plays, he starts. In the past, he would enter games in the late innings and catch minor-league pitchers.

"You're loose," he said. "You're ready to play. Being able to catch the starters is huge too."

He waited a long time for this opportunity.

He thought he would get a chance to at least back up last season, but the Dodgers signed Dioner Navarro over the winter. Navarro was released in August.

But Ellis said he isn't treating his opportunity this spring as the only one he might ever get.

"I've already had a bunch of those in my career that didn't work out," he said. "I've already cried myself to sleep plenty of times, saying, 'Oh, I screwed up, that was my one big chance.' There were times throughout my career, like when I looked up at the scoreboard in double A and I saw I was hitting .150 in July, and I said, 'This is it, they're going to release me; they're not going to let me start anymore.'

"I think the biggest thing that I've learned is to have outward focus, to focus on other people and being an encourager to other guys. When that happens, I don't put so much pressure on myself; I don't think about my game too much. My own game kind of takes care of itself."

Hairston hurt

After making his fifth throwing error of the spring on Friday, veteran utilityman Jerry Hairston Jr. made a confession: his shoulder is bothering him. He was examined the next day by team physician Neal ElAttrache, who prescribed anti-inflammatory medication.

"It's inflamed a little bit," Hairston said.

Hairston described the discomfort as minor and said he would be ready to play Monday.

Hairston jammed the same shoulder playing for the Milwaukee Brewers against the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series last fall.

Decisions, decisions

Veteran relievers Jamey Wright and John Grabow can opt out of their non-guaranteed contracts on Sunday, according to General Manager Ned Colletti. If they opt out, they would become free agents unless the Dodgers add them to the major league roster by Sunday. Doing so would guarantee their contracts. Wright's deal could be worth $900,000 and Grabow's $800,000.

Both pitchers are competing for the final bullpen spot. Wright, a right-hander, pitched a scoreless inning to lower his spring earned-run average to 2.25. Grabow, a left-hander, hasn't given up a run in six innings.

Short hops

Andre Ethier will buy uniforms for the underfunded baseball team at inner-city Camelback High. Ethier attended nearby St. Mary's High in Phoenix. "I'm pretty excited and choked up about this," Camelback Coach Todd Goertzen said.... Ted Lilly received treatment on a stiff neck.... Non-roster reliever Scott Rice has strep throat.... Pitchers Wil Ledezma, Fernando Nieve and Angel Guzman were reassigned to minor league camp.

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