Losing A.J.


I felt like Nancy Kerrigan when she got her knees clubbed when I heard the news about A.J. Ellis last night. Knee surgery. Again. This one affected me emotionally even more than Kershaw’s injury announcement, and I have become quite accustomed to Dodger injury announcements by now. Everyday there is another injury. Yasiel’s thumb, Kershaw’s back, A.J.’s knee, Wilson’s elbow are some of the newest injuries for 2014. Of course there is always Elbert’s elbow. That’s a perennial favorite. In all seriousness, losing A.J. for any length of time is a big blow to the Dodgers.

I felt like crying after hearing the news about A.J. needing surgery. Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

A.J. is the heart of this team. He’s one of the nicest players you could ever meet, and his story of hard work and determination is inspiring. After years of enduring the likes of Ramon Hernandez, Dioner Navarro, Jason Phillips, Brad Ausmus, Rod Barajas, Matt Treanor, and Hector Gimenez (remember him?), Dodger fans had a terrific catcher to root for and to look to for both offense and defense in A.J.

They all can’t be Mike Piazza. Not since Russell Martin crouched behind the plate for the Dodgers, have I been a fan of a Dodger catcher like I am of A.J. As you know, Mike Scioscia is my favorite all-time baseball player, and watching A.J. play harkens me back to my childhood when I began my fascination with baseball and love for the catcher. Scioscia can’t be beat when it comes to blocking home plate, but A.J.’s fantastic 2012 season really showcased his offensive capabilities as well as his defensive skills.

A.J. gained attention with his impressive 2012 season when he accumulated a line of .270/.373/.414. A.J. became known to be very patient at the plate, and he collected 65 walks over 133 games played. The following season was a down year for A.J. at the plate, and now looking back it most likely was due to his knee problems.

Even though 2013 wasn’t his best season offensively, A.J. mowed down potential base stealers at a 44% rate. Combined with his best buddy Clayton Kershaw‘s excellent pickoff move, the battery of Ellis and Kersh were responsible for erasing a substantial amount of potential runs from the opposition. If you don’t think that A.J. is darn good at throwing out runners, please refer to Rod Barajas videos.

Torn meniscus in his left knee. That sentence in turn tears a hole in my heart. Some say that A.J. could return in 4-6 weeks after surgery. It seems to me that it will probably take longer since this is the second surgical procedure on his knee, and recovery usually takes longer with an area that has already been repaired. I’m not a physician, and I hope that A.J. is back behind the plate soon, but I have learned from the past that it’s better to play a player who is 100% healthy.

Ken Gurnick described how A.J. further injured his knee sliding into home plate:

"“Ellis, who turns 33 on Wednesday, has been receiving lengthy treatment after each game this year and the knee worsened significantly when he was thrown out at the plate trying to score from second on Andre Ethier‘s pinch-hit single Saturday.”"

If A.J. hadn’t been waved home by Lorenzo Bundy in Saturday’s game, perhaps A.J. wouldn’t have been lost. It’s hard to know how long A.J.’s knee was to go before he needed to repair it surgically, but that unneeded attempt to come home on that Ethier single made the situation more dire. Base running blunders are not only detrimental to the score of the game, but they can also put players in danger. Matt Kemp‘s base running mistake almost cost him his career when he twisted his ankle at home.

The Dodgers will have to forge on and play without Clayton Kershaw and A.J. Ellis for now. I’m going to stay positive about their quick returns to the field. Until then, the Dodgers will turn to Tim Federowicz and veteran Drew Butera.

Looking back, it all makes sense to why the Dodgers hung on to Butera and optioned FedEx back to AAA. At the time I was angry that the Dodgers were going to waste their best defensive catcher in the minors just to hold on to offensively muted Butera. It seems as though the Dodgers knew that A.J.’s knee was a problem since it was revealed that he was receiving treatment on said knee after each game.

The Dodgers will also have Miguel Olivo in Albuquerque, but for now I feel that FedEx should get the majority of the starts. I wanted to see

Tim Federowicz will be called up from AAA. Photo: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Tim get an increasing number of starts on the big team anyways this season, and I was disappointed when he was shuffled back to Albuquerque. FedEx is the Dodger catcher of the future, and I have always felt that his offense will come around once he can consistently play more than once per week.

Losing A.J. is the biggest disappointment for me since Matt Kemp hurt his shoulder, Chad Billingsley tore his elbow ligament, and Hanley Ramirez hurt his thumb. It may be that A.J. heals quickly and returns around the All-Star Break. That would be a good scenario to look to. A.J. is staying positive, and so shall I. A.J. has taught me a thing or two about being patient.

I can’t wait until A.J. comes back with his bionic knee and mows down potential base stealers and walks 7 times in one game.