DENVER -- The Padres' pitching staff features six rookies and two more who are nearing a return from the disabled list. On the 40-man roster, there are 11 pitchers 25 years old or younger.No wonder A.J. Ellis -- a 37-year-old catcher in his 16th professional season -- is going by
DENVER -- The Padres' pitching staff features six rookies and two more who are nearing a return from the disabled list. On the 40-man roster, there are 11 pitchers 25 years old or younger.
No wonder A.J. Ellis -- a 37-year-old catcher in his 16th professional season -- is going by "Dad" for his Players' Weekend nickname.
:: Players' Weekend presented by Valspar Stain ::
"Everybody here has learned a lot from him," said Austin Hedges, the Padres' starting catcher, who is younger than Ellis by nearly a dozen years. "He's definitely quite the father figure on the team."
It's no coincidence that Ellis' arrival coincided with a season in which the Padres have promoted a number of their young pitchers to the big leagues well ahead of schedule.
"He's stabilizing," said Padres manager Andy Green. "He's someone who knows what championship-caliber pitching looks like. He can give them a reference point, not just with what they do on the mound, but with what they do in between starts. He's seen the best do it, and he provides that perspective."
• Shop for Players' Weekend gear | All you need to know about Players' Weekend
In his 11-year big league career, Ellis has caught for the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Josh Beckett, among others. He's played in three postseasons, and he brings a wealth of experience -- experience young San Diego pitchers like Joey Lucchesi, Eric Lauer and Jacob Nix don't have.
Ellis began his career with the Dodgers, and he'll return to Los Angeles for Players' Weekend on Friday. He'll sport "Dad" as his nickname across the back of his colorful alternate jersey, specially designed for the weekend.
It's a fitting nickname. But Ellis insists he's merely trying to make himself available -- the way veterans like Brad Ausmus, Greg Maddux and Derek Lowe were for him upon his callup in 2008.
"If guys have questions or things come up, I feel like I've kind of been given a microphone to speak to those guys, try to help out in any way possible," said Ellis. "I try to make it as organic as possible. I don't want to be breathing down their necks constantly. I just want to always be available for them to talk about anything that's going on."
Ellis recalled a conversation he had with Manny Ramirez during his first week in the big leagues. Ramirez told Ellis that, with two strikes, he focused on pulling any offspeed pitch and hitting any fastballs to the opposite field. A decade later, Ellis still employs that mindset.
"I don't know if 10 years from now they'll be telling A.J. Ellis stories," Ellis said. "But hopefully there's some things I've done that can make an impact here."
It's clear he's already doing that.
"He knows pretty much every single hitter like the back of his hand," said Lauer. "I love seeing how much he puts into every single game, every lineup. It shows you how much you have to work to stay in the game."
Of course, Ellis isn't with the Padres merely to serve as a mentor (though he's doing a fine job of it). As backup catcher this season, he's had a renaissance at the plate.
Ellis has started just 39 games, but he's making the most of his sporadic playing time. He's hitting .280/.386/.364 in 161 plate appearances. That's no small feat for a 37-year-old catcher.
"Age-wise, physically, I'm pretty self-aware to know where I'm at, what my limitations are," Ellis said. "I also know the impact I can make on a team over 162 games, even when my name's not in the lineup. I don't want to be a guy who only shows up for the 25-40 starts he's going to get over the course of the year. I want to be a guy who's present and trying to affect his teammates in a positive way."
By the time these Padres pitchers reach their prime, Ellis will have long since retired. It seems clear his impact will still be felt -- not that Ellis is willing to look too far into that future.
"I just try to stay in the moment," he said. "Maybe that's why I've been able to hang around as long as I have. I just solve the problem in front of me, work on what's going on today, stay in the best shape I possibly can to get ready to play.
"As much as a thrill it is to be personally performing well, I get more of a thrill out of my teammates doing well. I love watching Austin Hedges rebound in the second half of the season, becoming the catcher I know he's going to be. ... I get a thrill out of Brett Kennedy pitching five solid innings, Eric Lauer, Joey Lucchesi getting off to a great start. That's what keeps me in the moment."
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.