Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

Tag: A.J. Ellis (Page 2 of 9)

In case you missed it: Sandy salute

Los Angeles Dodgers workout

By Jon Weisman

Though the legendary Sandy Koufax no longer has a formal role with the Dodgers, as Ken Gurnick of writes, that doesn’t mean he can’t stop by Camelback Ranch for a nice hello.

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Video: Ellis and Kershaw take Green Bay

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Courtesy of SportsNet LA, here’s a fun video of Clayton Kershaw joining A.J. Ellis at a Cowboys-Packers game in Green Bay last month — a day that includes Kershaw picking up the football and sending a pass too deep, and yet shallow, all at once.

— Jon Weisman

‘Quite cute’ A.J. Ellis signs 2016 deal with Dodgers

A.J. Ellis homered and caught Alex Wood's eight one-hit innings September 16 against Colorado. (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

A.J. Ellis homered and caught Alex Wood’s eight one-hit innings September 16 against Colorado. (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

By Jon Weisman

A.J. Ellis is returning to the Dodgers for 2016 on a one-year deal that allows them to avoid an arbitration hearing.

Ellis had a .398 on-base percentage and .486 slugging percentage in 168 plate appearances after May 26, enabling him to finish the season at .355/.403 after a slow start. As Ken Gurnick of notes, he hit all seven of his home runs last season in his final 35 games.

Drafted in 2003, Ellis has been in the Dodger organization longer than any other active player, and is the third-longest tenured player on the big-league roster after Andre Ethier and Clayton Kershaw. He made his MLB debut in September 2008.

With 461 career games behind the plate, Ellis is ninth all-time among Dodger catchers, and will pass Joe Ferguson and Paul Lo Duca to reach seventh if he catches at least 24 games in 2016.

Ellis’ negotiating power was no doubt boosted by his award-worthy appearance Tuesday on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” in which he also showed off his future coaching ability while working with ceremonial first-pitcher Lisa Vanderpump.

Yasmani Grandal ’50-50′ to start NLDS Game 5


By Jon Weisman

Yasmani Grandal catches most Zack Greinke starts, as well as most games against right-handed pitching, but his ailing shoulder might keep him doing so Thursday in Game 5 of the National League Division Series.

Don Mattingly said that Grandal is able to play defensively, but it’s a question whether he can bat effectively, saying that Grandal is “a bit more on the 50-50 line” about whether he could start.

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Kershaw reasserts himself as ace for all seasons

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

By Jon Weisman

Let’s make sure we’re clear about this. Clayton Kershaw did not make his first great postseason start tonight. Not even close.

Just to remind you, there was the three-game stretch in the 2013 playoffs, when he pitched 19 innings, struck out 23 and allowed one earned run.

That’s in addition to the six quality innings he threw twice in the 2014 National League Division Series and once in the 2015 NLDS — yes, before seventh innings to forget.

But for those who haven’t seen past Kershaw’s postseason won-loss record, his seven innings in Tuesday’s 3-1 NLDS Game 4 victory are the much-awaited spectacles.

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NLDS Game 4 lineups: Ellis, Puig, Ruggiano start

Curtis Granderson, RF
David Wright, 3B
Daniel Murphy, 2B
Yoenis Cespedes, LF
Travis d’Arnaud, C
Lucas Duda, 1B
Wilmer Flores, SS
Juan Lagares, CF
Steven Matz, P
Kiké Hernandez, CF
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Justin Turner, 3B
Corey Seager, SS
Yasiel Puig, RF
A.J. Ellis, C
Justin Ruggiano, LF
Clayton Kershaw, P
Jill Weisleder/Los Angeles Dodgers

Jill Weisleder/Los Angeles Dodgers

By Jon Weisman

In a reversal of 2014, Yasiel Puig will make his first postseason start in more than a year when the Dodgers play the Mets tonight in Game 4 of the National League Division Series.

Facing a left-handed starter (Steven Matz) for the only time in the NLDS, Don Mattingly has put right-handed hitting outfielders Puig and Justin Ruggiano in place of Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford, who have typically sat against southpaws in 2015.

Also back in today’s lineup is catcher A.J. Ellis, no surprise with a lefty pitching for the opposition, Clayton Kershaw pitching for the Dodgers and Yasmani Grandal appearing to have aggravated his problematic left shoulder in Monday’s 13-7 Game 3 loss.

Memorably, Mattingly substituted Ethier for Puig in Game 4 of the 2014 NLDS, after Puig started the first three games. In each game, the Dodgers needed a win to stay alive in the playoffs. As Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. notes, the Dodgers have lost six straight elimination games on the road in the playoffs, last winning one in 1981.

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Ellis on Kershaw: What happened after 2014’s final out

AJ on Clayton

Back in Spring Training, with the scar of the previous October only beginning to heal, I asked A.J. Ellis to join Vin Scully, Rick Honeycutt and Orel Hershiser in a package of bylined stories about Clayton Kershaw for the April edition of Dodger Insider magazine. With a new October upon us, I thought this would be a good time to revisit Ellis’ remarkable insights about Kershaw and his relationship with the Dodger ace. Click the image above to enlarge.

— Jon Weisman

Laying down the Kershaw, Dodgers win NL West!

Kershaw close

By Jon Weisman

The Titanic skipped the iceberg. The boys beat the breaks.

All the numbers are magic tonight. For the first time in their history, the Dodgers are going to the postseason for the third consecutive year.

Soaring on home runs by Kiké Hernandez, Justin Ruggiano and A.J. Ellis off 2014 World Series hero Madison Bumgarner, sailing on the Unsinkable Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers stood up and shook up San Francisco, 8-0, to win the 2015 National League West title.

For Kershaw, it was his first career one-hitter (Kevin Frandsen’s clean single in the second inning preventing next-level history) and the second consecutive year he pitched the Dodgers to the NL West title — an eight-run victory both times. For Ellis, it was the second time in three years he homered in a division-clinching game.

Next challenge: To end the 26-year drought without a World Series title, the Dodgers’ longest since they won their first World Series in 1955. They will face the New York Mets in the National League Division Series, beginning October 9.

With the Dodgers having lost eight times in their last 10 games, stuck for 100 hours in a row on a magic number of two to clinch the division, Kershaw rose to the occasion for, as if it were even possible, one of the most brilliant games of his brilliant career. He retired the final 19 batters, struck out 13 in all (two shy of his career high), while needing only 104 pitches for the 12th shutout of his career.

Kershaw has 294 strikeouts in 2015, putting him within striking distance of 300 for the year, though he will probably have an abbreviated start in the Dodgers’ regular-season finale Sunday. Either way, Kershaw has the most whiffs for an MLB pitcher since Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson topped the 300 mark in 2002.

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In his first start since returning from the disabled list, Hernandez provided the initial spark — or sparks. He led off the game with a single off Bumgarner, went to third on an omenic Kelby Tomlinson error, then scored on Justin Turner’s sacrifice fly — all before hitting the first Dodger homer to begin the third.

Though Kershaw was dealing, allowing his only single and walk in the third inning, it was a plenty tight game into the fifth, when whatever leverage Bumgarner was hanging onto seemed to give way when it took him 13 pitches to retire Kershaw — the longest at-bat by a big-league pitcher this year. The Dodgers didn’t score, but Bumgarner finished the fifth inning already at 100 pitches.

With two out in the sixth, Bumgarner hung a curveball that Ruggiano blasted for a 3-0 Dodger lead. Ellis went back-to-back to make it 4-0. In the eighth, the Dodgers broke it open with four runs, the big blow a team-leading sixth triple of the year by Andre Ethier.

Starting with the last out of the third inning, Kershaw retired 16 batters in a row, striking out 10 of them, to reach the ninth on 96 pitches.

Trevor Brown whiffed on three pitches. Angel Pagan flied to left on two pitches. Kelby Tomlinson took tow balls, then hit a slow chopper to shortstop, where Corey Seager flung to Adrian Gonzalez to ignite the celebration.

Next stop, playoffs.

‘Weird’ lineup features youngest Dodger cleanup hitter in more than 50 years

Colorado Rockies vs Los Angeles Dodgers

Rockies at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Austin Barnes, 2B
Chase Utley, 1B
Justin Ruggiano, LF
Corey Seager, SS
A.J. Ellis, C
Alex Guerrero, 3B
Chris Heisey, RF
Joc Pederson, CF
Alex Wood, P

By Jon Weisman

Even by the Dodgers’ ever-fluctuating standards, this is not the usual starting lineup.

Don Mattingly himself called it “weird,” and said he knew it would be that way by the time he left Dodger Stadium and the 16-inning marathon behind in the wee hours of the night. Among others, Mattingly was looking to rest Adrian Gonzalez and Justin Turner, who each played the entire game. And the Dodgers are still battling several injuries, including players not on the disabled list such as Scott Van Slyke and Jose Peraza.

Let’s take a look at tonight’s lineup, one through nine:

  • Austin Barnes, 2B: Taking it from the top, this is the 25-year-old catcher’s first MLB game batting leadoff or at second base. In the minors, Barnes has played 150 games at second base, though none since 2014. He is the first Dodger to play catcher, third base and second since Trent Hubbard in 1998-99, and the first to do it in the same season since Derrel Thomas in 1980. Barnes’ RBI single Tuesday lifted his on-base percentage as a Dodger to .375 in 25 plate appearances.
  • Chase Utley, 1B: In 13 seasons, the 36-year-old Utley has 31 career games (24 starts) at first base, most recently August 10 for the Phillies at Arizona. In 220 1/3 innings, he has been charged with one error.
  • Justin Ruggiano, LF: Ruggiano has become a familiar face in left field, and has a .393 OBP/.846 slugging percentage in 28 plate appearances as a Dodger, even after following his leadoff double Tuesday with six consecutive outs. But this is only his 11th career start as a No. 3 hitter, and first since April 9, 2014 for the Cubs against Pittsburgh.
  • Corey Seager, SS: Seager is batting cleanup in his 13th Major League game. Other Dodgers, most recently Yasiel Puig, Scott Van Slyke and even John Lindsey, have batted cleanup sooner, but the Dodgers haven’t had a starting cleanup hitter younger than Seager (21 years, 142 days) since Derrell Griffith (20 years, 294 days) in 1964. Before Griffith, there wasn’t a younger starting Dodger cleanup hitter since Duke Snider in 1947. With Jimmy Rollins still unable to play defense for several days, Seager will continue to see action.
  • A.J. Ellis, C: Ellis’ start in the No. 5 slot Tuesday was his first in nearly two years. He hasn’t started back-to-back days as a No. 5 hitter since May 14-15, 2013.
  • Alex Guerrero, 3B: Guerrero, who has a single, double and walk in seven plate appearances this month, is starting at third base for the 14th time this year and first time since August 8 at Pittsburgh.
  • Chris Heisey, RF: Ruggiano, Seager and Heisey (who had RBI in the seventh and 11th innings Monday) were the only three Dodgers to play all 16 innings. None was in the organization three weeks ago.
  • Joc Pederson, CF: Pederson, who had reached base in nine consecutive starts before going 0 for 2 Monday, has played 87 percent of the Dodgers’ innings in center field this year. Only Gonzalez (90 percent) has a higher percentage of the team’s innings at one position in 2015.
  • Alex Wood, P: In Wood’s Major League debut on May 30, 2013, he batted third, entering the game in Justin Upton’s slot in a ninth-inning double switch.

Grandal returns, but Ellis could play more down stretch

Dodgers at Reds, 9:35 a.m.
Jimmy Rollins, SS
Chase Utley, 2B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Justin Turner, 3B
Andre Ethier, LF
Yasiel Puig, RF
Yasmani Grandal, C
Joc Pederson, CF
Zack Greinke, P

By Jon Weisman

Yasmani Grandal is back in the starting lineup for the first time since Saturday, but as Pedro Moura of the Register wrote, Grandal’s left shoulder isn’t 100 percent.

With A.J. Ellis three months into a hot streak off the bench, Grandal himself indicated that Ellis might play more than the typical one or two games per week as the season heads into September.

“A.J.’s doing a great job behind home plate,” Grandal told Moura. “Why not give him a shot at playing more games in a row, getting him a little more comfortable back there on back-to-back days? You never know what can happen.”

No one’s looking to put Grandal out to pasture, especially if he can heal up. According to Fangraphs, the 26-year-old is No. 4 among Major League catchers in wins above replacement and is tops among everyday catchers in offense. He has a .383 on-base percentage and .471 slugging percentage, despite going 3 for his last 30 (with five walks).

But after two seasons of injury-plagued decline, Ellis has been reborn at age 34. His .736 OPS in 2015 is his best since 2012, and from May 26 through August 26, he has a .435 OBP while slugging .521, including a homer, single and walk in Wednesday’s 7-4 win over the Reds.

“I don’t know if it was just health, or bad swing mechanics,” Ellis said in explaining his surge to Moura. “I was hitting a lot of ground balls to the left side of the infield on pitches I should have traditionally stayed up the middle on or hit the other way. I worked hard on staying up the middle.”

Given their side-by-side success, we should see the Dodgers be able to take advantage of Grandal and Ellis not only down the stretch but if they reach the playoffs, especially given how often in their friendly partnership Grandal has caught Zack Greinke while Ellis has caught Clayton Kershaw.

It doesn’t hurt that in his postseason career, Ellis is hitting .386/.481/.682 for a 1.163 OPS in 53 plate appearances (yes, small sample size warning). He has a 10-game hitting streak in the playoffs and has a hit in all but one of his 14 career playoff games.

Shoulder sidelines Yasmani Grandal

Juan Ocampo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Juan Ocampo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Dodgers at Reds, 4:10 p.m.
Jimmy Rollins, SS
Yasiel Puig, RF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Justin Turner, 3B
Scott Van Slyke, LF
Chase Utley, 2B
A.J. Ellis, C
Kiké Hernandez, CF
Alex Wood, P

By Jon Weisman

Yasmani Grandal is not expected to start before Thursday at the earliest because of an ailing left shoulder, Don Mattingly told reporters today.

Grandal is third on the Dodgers with 140 weighted runs created (wRC+), but he is 3 for 30 with five walks and no extra-base hits in his past 35 plate appearances. Mattingly said there is worry the shoulder condition is altering Grandal’s swing.

The 26-year-old catcher isn’t expected to go on the disabled list, especially with rosters expanding one week from today. But it will mean more work than usual for A.J. Ellis, who is quietly posting his best averages at the plate (.356 on-base percentage, .360 slugging percentage) since 2012.

The Dodgers need improvement from several players as they look to win their first game since August 16. During the current five-game losing streak …

  • Justin Turner is 1 for 18 with two walks and two errors.
  • Jimmy Rollins has a single, double and homer in 22 plate appearances.
  • Adrian Gonzalez has four singles and a walk in 20 plate appearances.
  • Scott Van Slyke, Carl Crawford and Alex Guerrero are a combined 1 for 28 with one walk.

Rollins’ third-inning home run six days ago at Oakland is the Dodgers’ most recent four-base hit.

Alex Wood, who takes the mound today for the Dodgers, has been charged with exactly three runs on five hits with three walks in each of his past three starts.

Mat Latos pitched a five-inning simulated game Monday, and is scheduled to start Saturday against the Cubs, with Brett Anderson, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw taking the starts between now and then.  Juan Nicasio, as noted Monday, has been activated from the disabled list.


Bear and grin it: The line between too much and too little encouragement


By Jon Weisman

How far should you go to light a fire under someone?

After seeing the Oscar-nominated movie “Whiplash” last winter, with its internal debate between tough love and abuse, I was curious what the reaction would be in the sports world. So earlier this season, I talked to Scott Van Slyke, A.J. Ellis, Kiké Hernandez, J.P. Howell and Darwin Barney about it for the July issue of Dodger Insider magazine. Click each page below to enlarge.

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Kershaw, Ellis thwarted for second time on roadtrip

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By Jon Weisman

On Tuesday in Oakland, Clayton Kershaw and A.J. Ellis had big games, but they went for naught in an extra-inning defeat. Today in Houston, it happened again in a 3-2, 10-inning loss to Houston — the Dodgers’ fifth straight loss.

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Dodgers go from aggravated to elated to defeated

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By Jon Weisman

Some notes to pass along after a tough 5-4, 10-inning Dodger loss to the A’s tonight …

  • Clayton Kershaw lowered his ERA again, to 2.34, after allowing one run in seven innings and 116 pitches. It was a fiery night from Kershaw, who fired a baseball into the Dodger dugout (low enough not to harm anyone) after failing to make a play on an infield chopper to his right.
  • A.J. Ellis had a tiebreaking three-run home run in the eighth inning and four walks tonight, becoming the first Major Leaguer to do so since Jose Canseco in 1996 (noted by Bob Timmermann). Ellis also had his angry moment, jawing with home-plate umpire Tim Tichenor over a late timeout call.
  • Pedro Baez surrendered three runs and the lead in the bottom of the eighth. In the past month, opponents had a 0.68 ERA and 0.68 WHIP against Baez with a .200 on-base percentage.
  • Yimi Garcia pitched a perfect ninth inning, but allowed back-to-back doubles with none out in the 10th to end the game. Garcia had thrown 6 1/3 shutout innings this month, stranding two inherited runners, before those doubles.
  • Yasiel Puig left tonight’s game in the eighth inning with right hamstring tightness after beating out an infield single. As Ken Gurnick of notes, it was a strained left hamstring that sidelined Puig earlier this season.
  • The Dodgers walked nine times in a loss for the first time since an April 7, 2010 defeat against the Pirates.
  • Ron Roenicke, Don Mattingly and Farhan Zaidi discussed Roenicke’s hiring as Dodger third-base coach, Gurnick reports.

Dodger fantasy football breeds strange tweetfellows

The Dodgers held their annual fantasy football draft Monday, an event that seems to beg for wider media coverage, if these tweets above and below are any indication.

— Jon Weisman


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