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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A.J. Ellis provided the Los Angeles Dodgers with more power than they expected from him last season, his first as their No.1 catcher. Now that manager Don Mattingly has gotten a taste of it, he’s like to see him continue to hit home runs.
Ellis hit a grand slam Friday night against Jason Vargas for his first homer of the spring, Luis Cruz doubled home two runs and the Dodgers beat the Angels 9-8 Friday night in their next-to-last game of spring training. Ellis hit 13 home runs in 2012.
“Offensively, we were really happy last year with A.J., period,” Mattingly said. “Last year was a surprise to all of us. I think we went into the season last year saying we were going to (primarily) defend at that position and have a guy who calls the game well — and what we got offensively was going to be a bonus.
“As a hitter, he sees more pitches per at-bat than maybe anybody in baseball. He gave us production out of that spot — and if you do it once, you can do it again. So I expect him to be the same kind of offensive player again this year.”
Josh Beckett threw 80 pitches over four innings to get the win despite giving up seven runs on nine hits, including a three-run homer by Mike Trout and a two-run shot by Albert Callaspo.
Beckett is about to embark on his first full season with the Dodgers after coming over from Boston in a blockbuster nine-player trade on Aug. 25. He finished the spring 0-1 with a 10.12 ERA in five starts — including five home runs — and surrendered 14 earned runs in eight innings over his final two outings. His season debut will be Wednesday night against the World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
Paco Rodriguez got his second save of the exhibition season, facing one batter and throwing a called third strike past pinch-hitter Luis Jimenez with runners at second and third after Brandon League gave up an infield RBI single by Andrew Romine.
Vargas threw 60 pitches in just 1 1-2 innings, giving up eight runs and seven hits. The 30-year-old lefty, who joined the Angels in a trade that sent slugging first baseman and DH Kendrys Morales to the Seattle Mariners on Dec. 19, finished spring training 0-1 with a 7.54 ERA in six starts. His season debut will be next Friday afternoon at Texas.
“It wasn’t great by any means, but it was OK, Vargas said of his first spring with his new club. “I had some good games and had some suspect games. I was able to get the pitch count up my last start and got into the seventh inning. So that was a good sign going into the season.”
Albert Pujols opened the scoring with a first-inning RBI single, his ninth RBI of the spring, but the Dodgers responded with five runs in the bottom half. Matt Kemp hit an RBI double and Ellis drove a 2-1 fastball over the center field fence after a two-out walk to Andre Ethier.
“I felt great tonight. But I got behind in the count, let them see too many pitches and got hit hard with runners on base,” Vargas said. “They put some good swings on some bad pitches and some good pitches.”
Callaspo reduced the Angels’ deficit to 5-3 in the second with a two-run homer into the lower seats in the right field corner, but the Dodgers extended the margin to 8-3 with three in the bottom half.
Shortstop Erick Aybar drifted under a flyball to short right field by Adrian Gonzalez with one out and runners at first and second, dropping the ball after waving off the oncoming Mark Trumbo.
Aybar was able to get the force at third on Carl Crawford as Beckett crossed the plate — eliciting an argument between Angels manager Mike Scioscia and third base umpire Alfonso Marquez, who would not rule it an infield fly. Gonzalez ended up at first base and scored behind Kemp on a two-run double by Cruz that Trumbo missed on a leaping attempt at the fence. That was all for Vargas.
Josh Hamilton edged the Angels closer with an opposite-field RBI double in the third, and they narrowed the gap to 8-7 in the fourth on Trout’s homer into the lower stands in the left field corner. It was only the second of the spring for last season’s AL rookie of the year, who has 13 RBIs in 57 at-bats. He finished last season with 30 homers, 83 RBIs and a .326 average after getting promoted from the minors in late April.
“I think he’s going to do a repeat of that because he’s that type of player,” Angels center fielder Peter Boudros said. “It’s going to be fun to watch him develop and continue this. And once he knows the league a little bit more, he’s going to be a little more comfortable than he was last year.”
The Dodgers got their ninth run with two out in the seventh when Trumbo camped under Andre Ethier’s lazy flyball in short left field and shortstop Romine banged into him, knocking the ball loose and allowing Cruz to score all the way from first base.
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