WASHINGTON -- If three games is a trend, rookie A.J. Ellis has become the designated catcher for knuckleballer Charlie Haeger.

Manager Joe Torre said he doesn't like "designated catchers," because it leaves the alternate ill-prepared when needed, especially when it comes to catching the difficult knuckleball. He said Ellis got the call again because first-string catcher Russell Martin took Friday night off instead of Saturday when given the choice by Torre.

Ellis is just grateful for the playing time, although he concedes it's a challenge.

"You have to let the ball get on you and make a late decision," he said of catching the knuckler. "You can't anticipate anything."

Ellis said he studied tape of Doug Mirabelli, who had extensive experience catching Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

"But Charlie has a different knuckleball than Wakefield, because Charlie's velocity is a little firmer," Ellis said. "Charlie does a good job of mixing it up. He has one that darts, and then he slows one down and it just floats into the strike zone."

Ellis said it's frustrating whenever a pitch gets past a catcher, even when it's almost expected with a knuckleball.

"You have to have a one-pitch memory," he said. "I might have caught that one, but I have to be ready for the next one."

Torre has options to replace Manny

WASHINGTON -- Joe Torre takes what he's got and tries to make the best of it.

Last year, when Manny Ramirez was suspended 50 games for violating MLB's drug policy, Torre turned to Juan Pierre and the Dodgers kept winning.

Now with Ramirez on the disabled list because of a strained calf, Torre didn't use the word "platoon," but said he would shuffle left-handed-hitting Garret Anderson and right-handed-hitting Reed Johnson in left field for Ramirez. Anderson started Friday night and batted second against Washington right-hander Luis Atilano, who was making his Major League debut.

"We'll do a lot by feel," said Torre. "I want to make sure Garret gets enough at-bats to do the things he did last night [a two-run pinch-homer]. And I don't want to forget about resting the other guys [Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier]."

Torre said he has confidence in his bench.

"The people we'll send out to take [Manny's] place are pretty good," he said. "You can't ask somebody to do what Manny does. But we have experience from both sides."

Torre said he also wants to give an occasional start to Xavier Paul, the rookie called up to replace Ramirez on the 25-man roster. Paul's flight from New Orleans was delayed by weather, and the Dodgers played Friday night's game shorthanded.

"We'll have to see how to blend him in instead of having a youngster sitting on the bench," Torre said.

Ramirez wasn't the only lineup change Friday night. Torre started Ronnie Belliard at third base instead of Casey Blake and A.J. Ellis at catcher instead of Russell Martin. He said Blake "looked sluggish" Thursday night in Cincinnati, and he gave Martin the choice of resting Friday night (with knuckleballer Charlie Haeger starting) or Saturday (with Clayton Kershaw starting).

Howell misses road trip after procedure

WASHINGTON -- Dodgers bullpen coach Ken Howell had the tip of the big toe on his right foot amputated and was replaced on the road trip by Triple-A Albuquerque pitching coach Jim Slaton.

Howell had a portion of an infected third toe on the same foot amputated in 2008, the result of a diabetic staph infection.

Howell, 49, pitched seven seasons in the Major Leagues, the first five with the Dodgers, and is in his third season as the big league pitching coach.