Oct 09

Great interviews in Earth history: A.J. Ellis

Thanks to Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness for catching this. We were talking about it on Twitter today and at the game Monday: A.J. Ellis can basically write his own ticket as a broadcaster after his playing career is over, assuming he doesn’t write his own ticket as a manager. For my part, I’m not sure I can wait that long. Wire him up and have him do commentary during Game 1 at St. Louis on Friday.

Apr 24

Mark Ellis powers Dodgers, 7-2, after Kershaw struggles

What can baseball do?

Baseball can give you joy when you can imagine only sadness.

It can also give you the reverse, but enough about last week with the Dodgers. This is this week.

For two consecutive games, the Dodgers have won when you would have thought they would lose. They won when Chad Billingsley was unable to start Sunday, and they won in New York, 7-2, after an uncharacteristic disintegration by Clayton Kershaw on Tuesday.

Kershaw, to be fair, only allowed two runs, but it was shocking how it happened. Twelve pitches in into the third inning, 39 pitches into the game, Kershaw had retired all eight batters he had faced and had a 1-2 count on an emergency relief pitcher making his first career plate appearance. Moments later, he was trailing 2-1 and barely escaping a bases-loaded jam with a Marlon Byrd groundout, and after two more innings and 111 total pitches – matching the most he has ever thrown in the majors without reaching the sixth inning – his night was over. It was the second consecutive outing in which an opposing pitcher ended a perfect start by Kershaw.

Photos by Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Fortunately for the Dodgers, Mark Ellis has shown up like a combination of Florence Nightengale and the Tooth Fairy. Ellis, who Sunday drove in the Dodgers’ first three runs and also made a critical defensive play, all but singlehandedly put the Dodgers on his back Tuesday, with a game-tying home run in the fifth inning – the 100th of his career – and then a leap-from-your-seat three-run blast with two out in the seventh to put Los Angeles ahead to stay. (Not for nothing, Ellis also knocked out Mets starter Jonathon Niese in the third inning with a hard shot up the middle.)

Ellis’ second home run, as Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. noted, made him only the third Dodger second baseman in a century and first in 39 years with four hits and two homers in a game. The 35-year-old (how can such a veteran’s veteran be 10 years younger than me) himself has now thrice homered twice in a game. I also dare say that you won’t find another night in history when Dodger and Angel second basemen each hit two home runs, including tiebreaking homers for both, but I leave you the research challenge.

Not to be lost amid Ellis’ glory is the day Justin Sellers had – three hits, including an RBI single in the second and another coming ahead of Ellis’ second homer. (Juan Uribe drew a walk to keep that inning alive.) After starting the season 0 for 13, Sellers is 11 for 37 with a homer and five walks in his past 12 games (.409 on-base percentage, .378 slugging) and hasn’t made an error since his unfortunate second game of 2013. As hot as Dee Gordon has been at the plate in Albuquerque, Sellers has allowed the Dodgers to remove the yellow caution tape around shortstop.

A.J. Ellis doubled in two insurance runs in the eighth and now leads all major-league catchers with a .446 on-base percentage and NL catchers with a 159 adjusted OPS, and not because the pitcher is batting behind him – he has batted no lower than seventh except for in the third game of the season. Matt Kemp had two more hits and is now 17 for his past 55 (.309) with four doubles, as MLB.com noted, while Andre Ethier doubled ahead of A.J. to slow a 2-for-25 slump.

In addition, the topsy-turvy Dodger bullpen of 2013 has gone back to topsy, pitching at least four innings of shutout ball for the second consecutive game, sparked by a comeback performance by struggling Ronald Belisario (three batters, three outs on 15 pitches, 12 for strikes).

Los Angeles is now 9-4 when it isn’t losing six games in a row. Joy and sadness, that’s our game. With Ted Lilly against Matt Harvey tonight, it figures to be more of the same.

Apr 10

Dodgers survive a League of his moan, 4-3

So Chad Billingsley was the pregame worry, but in the end it was pins and needles with Brandon League.

It’s Jackie Robinson week, but instead we got the ghost of Mickey Owen.

Despite 17 baserunners tonight, the Dodgers’ final pitch of the game came with the tying and winning runs in motion on the bases for the Padres during a full-count pitch from League. But the last swing by Yonder Alonso sent a pop fly to the glove of backup left fielder Skip Schumaker, and Los Angeles hung on to a 4-3 victory.

The game offered little you could rely upon except Carl Crawford pounding the ball and the Dodgers leaving runners on base.

After the Dodgers stranded their 10th, 11th and 12th runners on base in the top of the ninth, League entered with a 4-1 lead and gave up a one-out double and two two-out singles for a run. He then struck out Chris Denorfia for what would have been the final out of the game, had the ball not eluded A.J. Ellis for a passed ball and another run.

League got two strikes on Alonso before the Padre worked the count full. With their stomachs lurching, Dodger fans instead got a dose of Pepto from the final out.

That preserved Billingsley’s first victory of the year and seventh in a row dating back to last season. After a leadoff walk, Billingsley sailed through the first three innings on barely 30 pitches, before falling out of sync in the fourth and fifth innings. But he kept the damage to a single run, and pushed through a sixth inning before calling it a night after 94 pitches. He allowed eight baserunners in all while striking out three.

Crawford homered on the second pitch of the game and tripled before scoring his second run in the fifth inning. Ellis hit a two-run homer in the second. Every Dodger position player who started had at least a hit, including the previously hitless Luis Cruz, who had two.

Oct 07

Expectant papa A.J. Ellis on mend after knee surgery

A.J. Ellis is recovering from surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee, according to his wife Cindy on Twitter. Ellis needs to get well soon because Cindy is expecting their next child in two weeks. Best wishes to all!


Aug 20

A.J. Ellis waxes about changing teammates

Kent’s a ‘Survivor’

As had been previously rumored, former Dodger Jeff Kent has officially joined the cast of the upcoming season of CBS’ “Survivor” — along with former “The Facts of Life” star Lisa Whelchel.

Our pal A.J. Ellis has a first-person piece in place of a vacationing Buster Olney today for ESPN.com (behind the Insider wall), writing about what it was like to be on the Dodgers during the recent non-waiver trade deadline. An excerpt:

… On the morning of July 25, I woke up at our hotel in St. Louis and had a pair of new teammates; Hanley Ramirez, a three-time All-Star and former batting champ, and Randy Choate, a left-handed specialist who has dominated left-handed hitters for years, were now Dodgers. Here was our first move, and we get a middle-of-the order bat and added bullpen depth to strengthen our roster and, more importantly, let the rest of baseball know the Dodgers’ ownership meant business. Anything was possible.

Immediately, text messages and phone calls flowed between teammates. Clayton Kershaw texted me with only the word “Hanley,” followed by five exclamation points. Mark Ellis called me to break down what it meant and if we thought Hanley would stay at third or move back to his natural position of shortstop. The initial excitement of the trade and the fulfilled promise from our new ownership group sent energy throughout our team.

Even after we reloaded with Hanley and Choate, the rumor mill continued to swirl. The team returned home after a 7-3 road trip and took the field on July 30 with less than 24 hours to go before the trade deadline. That night, relief pitcher Josh Lindblom entered the game in the sixth and had a quick inning. He was scheduled to head back out for a second inning of work until the home dugout got a first-hand look at how the trade machine works.

Clubhouse manager Mitch Poole quickly paced across the dugout and tapped manager Don Mattingly on the shoulder, summoning him down to the tunnel below our dugout. Mattingly emerged and immediately went to pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, who hurried to the bullpen phone to have another pitcher warm-up. On the bench, we all knew this could mean only one thing: Josh had been traded. The game ended and we entered the clubhouse to learn about the trade, but it wasn’t the one we were anticipating. The Dodgers had acquired Seattle Mariners reliever Brandon League for a couple of minor leaguers at the lower levels. But what about Josh — was his removal a false alarm or was his trade still imminent? …

Read the entire piece here.

Aug 03

Tweet Yo Self: Scully beguiled by Ellis’ big night

Even after ESPN the Magazine writer Molly Knight explained Twitter to Vin Scully earlier this year, the beloved Dodger broadcaster still hadn’t quite mastered it as of earlier this week, when he was charmingly saying such things as “The twit read …” Tonight, however, after Scully received a Twitter refresher course, the social media outlet became the spine of his broadcast tonight.

A.J. Ellis was a major part of tonight’s Twitter talk by Scully, and darned if Ellis didn’t have the most productive game of his career, hitting two solo home runs and singling for a third RBI in the Dodgers’ 6-1 victory over the Cubs.

“They are trending, twittering, tweeting, you name it, about ‘A.J. Ellis’ all over the United States,” Scully said mid-game, before signing deeply, almost exhaustedly, adding, “Ahhhh – he’s a nice boy.”

The way Scully got Twitter talking about Ellis was reminiscent of the way he would get the transistor radio crowd at Dodger Stadium in the 1960s to follow his lead.

Ellis and Hanley Ramirez, who had two hits and two RBI, weren’t the only Dodgers to give fans something to flap their fingers over.  Chad Billingsley went seven breezy innings, allowing six baserunners on 105 pitches while striking out seven. In three starts since coming off the disabled list, Billingsley has pitched 20 1/3 innings and allowed only 15 hits and three walks while striking out 13. His ERA in that time is 0.89, and he continues to maintain his season-long progress in attacking the strike zone.

Jun 23

Dodger Defcon ratings

Starting today, I’m making periodic contributions to the CityThink blog at Los Angeles Magazine. My first piece looks at the state of the Dodgers from a War Games perspective. Check it out …

Good teams have bad weeks, and one bad week like the Dodgers are having (with four losses in a row, including Friday’s 8-5 come-from-ahead defeat against the Angels) doesn’t ruin a season. At the same time, people have feared all along that the Dodgers are a team living on the brink of destruction in a dangerous baseball world.

In the spirit of War Games, here’s a snapshot of which Dodger problems are tic-tac-toe and which are global thermonuclear war …

Read the rest at CityThink …

May 14

The A.J. Ellis All-Star campaign — taking it national

Diamondbacks at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Kershaw CXXIV: Kershawpolitan
Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Bobby Abreu, LF
Andre Ethier, RF
A.J. Ellis, C
James Loney, 1B
Adam Kennedy, 3B
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Clayton Kershaw, P

In a guest post for ESPN.com’s Sweet Spot blog, I press the case (begun here) for A.J. Ellis to be top of mind when it comes to this year’s All-Star voting. In fact, it’s not hard to argue that as we begin play tonight, Ellis has been the No. 1 catcher in baseball this year.

If you rumble in certain corners of the country or the Internet, you may have heard tales of A.J. Ellis Facts, which chronicles the exploits of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ first-time starting catcher as if he were an Avenger of some incredible ilk.

In reality, Ellis might not be a superhero, but he might just be the best pick for the National League All-Star team at catcher in 2012.

Ellis, who had only 141 career major-league plate appearances before turning 30 last year, has adapted a long-developed mastery of the strike zone in the minors into an earnest dose of offensive weaponhood in the big leagues, to the point where he is now third in the NL in on-base percentage (.462) behind David Wright and Joey Votto.

Additionally, despite managing only six home runs in more than 800 Pacific Coast League at-bats, Ellis has added enough pop to his game (five doubles, a triple and three home runs this season) that he is slugging .512 and has an OPS of .974, the latter figure tops among all major-league catchers. This despite playing two-thirds of his games this year in the relatively stifling hitting environments of Dodger Stadium and San Diego’s Petco Park. …

Read the entire post here.

Update: The Dodgers have placed Juan Uribe on the disabled list to deal with his lingering left wrist injury, and have purchased the contract of utilityman Elian Herrera from Triple-A Albuquerque.The 27-year-old has a .381 on-base percentage and .550 slugging percentage for the Isotopes this year, playing second base, third, shortstop and center field.

Los Angeles designated Trent Oeltjen for assignment to make room for Herrera on the 40-man roster.


May 13

Kemp, Ethier watch Dodgers finish win from clubhouse

A nightmare scenario produced a dreamy finish – today, anyway.

Despite losing Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier midway through today’s game, the Dodgers rallied from deficits of 3-0 and 4-2, scoring six in the bottom of the fifth on their way to a 11-5 Mother’s Day victory that improved their MLB-best record to 23-11.

Before I get into the other details, I want to say this about A.J. Ellis, who singled, walked and hit a three-run home run today (capping the fifth-inning onslaught) and now is OPSing .974 this season. I have absolutely believed for a long time that he was capable of delivering high on-base percentage and occasional power. Plate discipline is huge in this game, and Ellis has it by the bushel. What he’s doing in 2012 matches my highest expectations, but it doesn’t exceed them, certainly not for a stretch of this length. I am thrilled, I am elated, but I am not shocked. Not in any way.

As for the rest of the action …

1) No, we’re not getting out of today’s game unscathed. Kemp left today’s game after running out a ground ball in the bottom of the third, engineering new concern over his left hamstring. What this means long-term isn’t clear, though in the short-term, at least, the Dodgers didn’t suffer. Bobby Abreu hit a three-run double in his first at-bat to give the Dodgers their first lead of the day.

2) Ethier left today’s game in the fifth inning on the behest of home-plate umpire Mark Carlson’s right thumb. Ethier argued a borderline called third strike at length, then began to walk away but cursed unmistakably in the process. Carlson had showed patience during the initial argument, but didn’t extend it any further. I sent my daughter to her room for a few minutes in response to her own shouting at around the same time, so I understand the feeling. (Don Mattingly also was sent on his less-than-merry way a minute later.)

3) Scott Van Slyke replaced Ethier in right field and looked great. In his first plate appearance, he drew a walk and stole a base, then scored the Dodgers’ ninth run on a perfectly executed squeeze by Adam Kennedy on a high and outside pitch. In the eighth inning, Van Slyke doubled in two more runs, continuing his perfect start to his career.

4) Tony Gwynn Jr., moments after moving to center field after Kemp left, made a spectacular horizontal catch.

5) James Loney doubled and walked twice.


Apr 29

The A.J. Ellis All-Star campaign starts now!

© Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers 2012

A.J. Ellis will probably get a rest today after catching Saturday’s 10-inning thriller, and he will have earned it.

Ellis is fifth among major-league catchers in Wins Above Replacement this season, according to Fangraphs – third in the National League behind Yadier Molina and Buster Posey (who also plays first base). Ellis has caught 156 of the Dodgers’ 190 innings this season, with one error, no passed balls and outs on 40 percent of the 15 runners attempting to steal against him.

In on-base percentage, no major-league catcher tops Ellis’ .439, which is third in the entire NL behind Matt Kemp and David Wright. Take away his four intentional walks (if you must), and Ellis would still have a .403 OBP that would be 10th in the league.

Update: Ellis has 67 plate appearances this year.

  • He has gone after the first pitch twice – a single, and a sacrifice bunt.
  • He has taken the first pitch for a ball 35 times. After 1-0, he is 2 for 21 with 14 walks (.095 batting average/.457 OBP).
  • He has taken the first pitch for a strike 30 times. After 0-1, he 12 for 30 with no walks (.967 OPS).
  • Ellis is 6 for 16 (.875 OPS) after an 0-2 count.
Nationals at Dodgers, 1:10 p.m.
Tony Gwynn Jr., LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Uribe, 3B
James Loney, 1B
Justin Sellers, SS
Matt Treanor, C
Chris Capuano, P
Apr 15

Oh, the insanity! Triple play leads to Dee-day, Dodger hooray


Runners were on first and second with none out in a tie game in the top of the ninth when Javy Guerra threw a pitch so far inside that it nearly hit Don Mattingly in the Dodger dugout.

Jesus Guzman, attempting to bunt, tried to get out of the way, but instead of turning his back and earning a trip to first base the hard way, he kept his bat out – and the ball found a spot in between his hands on the wood. It landed on the dirt just behind home plate, and as umpire Dale Scott began gesticulating, it rolled fair.

The most underrated player in baseball in 2012, A.J. Ellis, picked up the ball the moment it went fair and fired it down to Juan Uribe at third base, starting an around-the-horn triple play that showed, with incredible authority, that Guerra absolutely has the stuff to dominate the ninth inning.

It also kept the Dodgers alive on an afternoon in which Clayton Kershaw had some rare struggles, alive long enough for Dee Gordon to single in the game-winning run with two out in the bottom of the ninth for a 5-4 victory over the Padres.

The Dodgers have won six games in a row and still have baseball’s best record at 9-1. (Milwaukee lost today, ensuring that the Dodgers will go at least another three games before playing a team whose record is above .500. )

Matt Kemp hit his sixth homer in the season’s first 10 games and had hits in his first three at-bats to raise his batting average at one point to .500. Andre Ethier drove in his 15th run of the season, and Juan Rivera had two RBI. Thanks largely to their contributions, the Dodgers led 4-1 after three innings.

But Kershaw wasn’t his untouchable self today, allowing seven hits in the first five innings (and an unearned run thanks to a third-inning Gordon error) before walking the bases loaded in the sixth. A one-out, RBI single by Orlando Hudson ended Kershaw’s day, and a two-run single by Jeremy Hermida off Josh Lindblom handed the defending Cy Young Award winner his third straight no-decision to start 2012.

Los Angeles, which ultimately left 15 runners on base – including the three celebrating the victory after Gordon’s hit – nearly scored the go-ahead run in the sixth inning (when Ethier struck out with two on), seventh inning (when Gordon struck out with three on) and eighth inning (when Kemp’s no-out near-single was turned into a double play by Hudson, who was covering second because Mark Ellis was running).

Gordon hadn’t exactly been having the best day, though he had stolen two bases (giving him an MLB-high seven on the year) and made a fine running catch in left-center in the eighth. But he went with the last pitch he saw in the ninth and hit it sharply into left field, ending all the drama except for whether his small frame would survive the mammoth Kemp-led dogpile.

Matt Guerrier, Kenley Jansen and Guerra combined for three shutout innings to keep the Dodgers close after their lead went away.

A.J. Ellis went 0 for 2 but walked three times to give him eight on the season (in eight games), tied for fourth in the National League. And he also had the presence of mind to start the game-saving triplet-killing.

I was at the game for the Dodgers’ last triple play at Dodger Stadium, on June 13, 1998, and that also came on an attempted bunt and was just about as bizarre. From 100 Things Dodgers:

Kurt Abbott of Colorado popped up a bunt attempt – enough to freeze teammates Jamey Wright and Neifi Perez on first and second base (the infield fly rule can’t be called on bunts). Pitcher Darrren Dreifort let the ball drop, and then the throws went from Dreifort to shortstop Jose Vizcaino to force Perez, then to Eric Young at first base to retire Abbott, and finally across the diamond to Bobby Bonilla at third base to tag out Wright. The ol’ 1-6-4-5.

Apr 07

A.J. Ellis, Dee Gordon carry Dodgers to winning finish

In a sense, too much is being asked of A.J. Ellis and Dee Gordon this year. Neither has held a full-time job in baseball before this year, and yet one is the team’s leadoff hitter and infield anchor, the other is quite possibly expected to deliver the team’s best on-base percentage.

But each player had a whale of a game in tonight’s 6-5 Dodger victory that elevated the team to 3-0. Ellis homered, walked twice and singled in the 11th before scoring a go-ahead run that was driven in by Gordon, who recovered from his slow offensive start in the Dodgers’ first two games to go 3 for 4 with two walks and three steals.

The heroics lifted the Dodgers on a night that they surrendered a 5-0 lead to a five-run Padres fifth inning that featured two singles, a hit batter, a wild pitch and five walks, including four in a row with two out. Chris Capuano, who had been pitching decently to that point, faltered by walking three after a one-out single. Jamey Wright relieved and threw eight straight balls for two more runs, and then Scott Elbert wild-pitched a fourth run in, hit a batter and gave up the game-tying single.

However, Mike MacDougal, Matt Guerrier, Kenley Jansen (pitching two innings), Todd Coffey and closer Javy Guerra held San Diego scoreless on four baserunners over the final six innings, enough time for Ellis and Gordon to deliver once more.

The Dodgers had taken a 1-0 lead in the first inning after Matt Kemp drove in Gordon with a sacrifice fly, boosted it to 4-0 when the Roadrunner crossed the plate on Kemp’s RBI single and Andre Ethier doubled in Mark Ellis and Kemp, and then made it 5-0 on Ellis’ fourth-inning home run.

Early season OPS: A.J. Ellis 1.205, Kemp 1.198, Ethier 1.021, Juan Rivera .955, Gordon .732, Mark Ellis .670, James Loney .111, Juan Uribe .111.

Mar 02

Family Friday

© Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers 2012

Without further or farther ado …

  • From the Dodger press notes: “The Spring Training Baseball Show with Kevin Kennedy and David Vassegh on Dodger radio partner AM 570 Fox Sports L.A. rolls on tonight after the duo debuted yesterday. The show will air tonight from 9:00-10:00 p.m. PT, but the hour-long show will normally air six days a week (excluding Sunday) at 7:00 p.m. PT. “
  • A fun video of the Dodgers during 1967 Spring Training includes great shots of coach Jim Gilliam, manager Walter Alston and an earful of 21-year-old Don Sutton. Thanks to Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.
  • The Dodgers signed two players from their tryout camp, Blake Johnson and Brandon Mims, and both have interesting backstories that Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness chronicles.
  • Today in Jon SooHoo: My favorites are the smiling Clayton Kershaw with Sandy Koufax (and Rick Honeycutt), A.J. Ellis with Chad Billingsley and broadcaster Jaime Jarrin with his grandson, Dodger minor-leaguer Stefan Jarrin.
  • Ellis, devaluing his own on-base skills (and his minor-league track record), told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com that batting eighth helped him draw walks and seemed not to want to feast on the fastballs that would come batting in front of Matt Kemp.

    … “I love hitting eighth. I take it as a challenge and embrace it. There’s a strong mental aspect to it and I feel privileged in that spot. Jamey Carroll hit eighth a lot for us and he taught me a lot.

    “Before my first game at Triple-A, Tim Wallach was manager and he called me in and told me I would hit eighth no matter what, because that’s where I would hit in the big leagues and it’s the most important position. After that, I took pride in it.”

  • Related: Chris St. John of The Platoon Advantage studied how minor-league walk and strikeout rates for batters correlated with major-league performance.
  • Why not? Mark Timmons of LADodgerTalk.com predicts 30 wins for Clayton Kershaw. A safer bet than 50-50 for Matt Kemp?
  • Former top MLB draft pick Brien Taylor, whose story I linked to recently on Dodger Thoughts, has been arrested for cocaine trafficking.
  • Jim McLennan of AZSnakepit looks back at Spring Training 2011 and writes about what the regular season would have been like if it had continued in the same fashion. Among other things, Arizona would have lost 109 games.
  • Kerris Dorsey, who played Billy Beane’s daughter so well in “Moneyball,” was cast in a Showtime pilot, “Ray Donovan,” starring voice of HBO Sports Liev Schreiber.
  • The title says it all: Eastbound and Downton.