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Friday, September 6, 2013
Dodgers catchers enjoying rare synergy

By Mark Saxon

Ron Karkovice was a first-round draft pick and a highly touted defensive catcher, but for much of his career he was stuck behind Carlton Fisk. It wasn’t until Karkovice was 28 years old (and Fisk was 44) that he finally got an opportunity to be the Chicago White Sox starting catcher.

Fisk, it has been said, was none too eager to foster Karkovice’s improvement. Such a dynamic is common in major-league clubhouses, with veterans typically wary of losing their jobs to younger talent.

The Dodgers have tried to pre-empt such an issue on their team by asking A.J. Ellis to help Tim Federowicz along.

“That’s one thing we’ve been talking about, that his job partially is to bring Fed up,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “Really, we’re asking him, ‘Train Fed to take your job and then fight him off.’"

Ellis, 32, has been the Dodgers’ primary catcher for the past two seasons. Federowicz, 25, is in his first full season.

Ellis’ catcher’s ERA of 3.10 is the best in the majors, tied with his former teammate Russell Martin of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Federowicz, without the luxury of catching Clayton Kershaw when Ellis is healthy, isn’t far behind with a CERA of 3.49. He has become the personal catcher for Ricky Nolasco, who has been one of the hottest starters in the league.

Ellis said he is just returning a favor.

“I wouldn’t be the major-league catcher I am without the help of Brad Ausmus,” Ellis said. “I latched onto him and he mentored me on how to become a major-league catcher, how you need to handle yourself and how you need to prepare and what your main priority is.”

Eleven of Federowicz’s 35 starts have come since Aug. 1 and his emergence (he’s also batting .333 in his last 16 games) has allowed Ellis to get more rest than he did a year ago, when he fell into a major batting slump in September. Ellis admitted in 2012 that he had begun to wear down mentally. That should be less of a problem down the stretch this season.