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03/07/10 5:30 PM ET
Torre confident Ellis can spell Martin
LA skipper turns to rookie in wake of No. 1 catcher's injury
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
PHOENIX -- After revealing that two-time All-Star Russell Martin would miss four to six weeks with a pulled groin muscle, manager Joe Torre on Sunday gave every indication that he's comfortable turning over the bulk of the Spring Training catching duties to rookie A.J. Ellis. "I have no hesitation at all," Torre said of catching Ellis, who has 12 games of Major League service and a .077 career batting average. "He handles a game well. He's a tireless worker. Being a former catcher, I know how important the defensive end is. He's made himself a good hitter, he's a grinding type of guy. I've seen him enough to be comfortable with it." Torre added that 40-year-old Brad Ausmus would share time with Ellis this spring, as he would have with Martin. Torre said once the season starts, he would figure out the "right balance" of playing time. "Ausmus has caught every day, and he brings a lot to the table with his experience, but I certainly don't want to run him into the ground either," said Torre. Over the winter, general manager Ned Colletti said he was comfortable having Ellis as Martin's backup if Ausmus had decided to retire. Torre said he had not discussed with Colletti going outside the organization for a replacement. "I'm not out right now looking for a catcher who can start for the Dodgers," Colletti said. "If Russell is going to be out for the entire season, it'd be something we'd think about, but not if it's going to be maybe two weeks into the season that he'll miss." Ellis (A.J. stands for Andrew James) broke out in a big smile when told that Torre called him a grinding type of guy. "That's an awesome compliment," he said. "I've been that my whole career. I don't want to be an easy out." Despite the 1-for-13 career stats at the plate, Ellis said he's "absolutely ready" for the duties, "but you've still got to play well. Nothing is taken for granted in this game."Ellis, 28, was an 18th-round pick out of Austin Peay University in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft who has a .278 career Minor League batting average and more career walks than strikeouts. He hit .314 in 90 games at Triple-A Albuquerque last year, leading the organization with a .438 on-base percentage. He had brief callups in 2008 and '09. "He was brought up a couple of times because of what we think of him," said Torre. "He's a workaholic." Ellis, a native of Lexington, Ky., who now lives in Wisconsin with wife Cindy and 22-month-old daughter Ainsley, said his approach will be the same as it's been so far in Spring Training. "My goal is the help Russ and Brad and [pitching coach Rick Honeycutt] get the pitchers ready for the season," he said. "I'm not going to change a thing. I'll keep the same routine. My focus is on defense number one, offense second. "I feel bad for Russ. I know how hard he worked over the offseason." Ellis said his internship as a student of Ausmus won't change, either. "I've learned how tough it is," he said. "It's a good blueprint watching Ausmus, and I've learned a lot about the behind-the-scenes work that's needed to be a Major League catcher. I'm happy he's still around." The Dodgers also have highly regarded young catcher Lucas May on the 40-man roster. The non-roster catchers in camp are former Major Leaguer JD Closser, Gabriel Gutierrez and Justin Knoedler. "If there's a silver lining to [the Martin injury], it's a month before we open, so four of the six weeks will be spent during Spring Training," said Colletti. "The other silver lining is A.J. Ellis has worked very hard to have a shot at the big leagues. His ability to catch and throw and run a staff we feel is close, if not at, big league caliber right now. He'll have an opportunity. That's what careers sometimes get made of."
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Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.