A.J. Ellis walked into Manager Don Mattingly's office at the end of last season to tell him something.
"I want to let you know I want to be your opening-day catcher," Ellis said.
The 30-year-old career minor-leaguer from Paul Laurence Dunbar is on the verge of fulfilling his goal.
"I wanted to make sure he knew, and the organization knew, that I took this seriously," Ellis said.
The pitchers have learned that, too.
The Dodgers have two new starting pitchers, Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano. Ellis has made great efforts to get to learn their tendencies.
"A.J. has been great," Capuano said. "I told him a couple things that I need out of a catcher, and he's been right on them, whatever cues that work for me to get back on track. He's gone out of his way to do everything right."
Ellis is batting .240 with one homer, three RBI and four walks in 25 spring at-bats. Ellis said he isn't treating his opportunity this spring as the only one he might ever get.
"I've already had a bunch of those in my career that didn't work out," he said. "I've already cried myself to sleep plenty of times, saying, 'Oh, I screwed up, that was my one big chance.' There were times throughout my career, like when I looked up at the scoreboard in double-A and I saw I was hitting .150 in July, and I said, 'This is it, they're going to release me; they're not going to let me start anymore.'
"I think the biggest thing that I've learned is to have outward focus, to focus on other people and being an encourager to other guys. When that happens, I don't put so much pressure on myself."
Around the league
Reds: Johnny Cueto gave up three home runs — including the first two of the spring for Todd Helton — and the Rockies beat Cincinnati 7-3. Casey Blake's homer also was his first. Reds first baseman Joey Votto, in a 5-for-31 slide coming in, had an RBI single in the third and a single in the fifth. Cueto gave up five runs and six hits in six innings.
Phillies: Chase Utley will miss the entire exhibition schedule for the second straight year and will not be in the opening-day lineup because of his injured knees.
■ Jim Thome played five innings at first base and hit a two-run double for a Phillies' split squad in a 3-3, 10-inning tie against the Orioles. The 41-year-old, who has not played the field in the regular season since eight innings for the Chicago White Sox at the Phillies on June 13, 2007, did not have any grounders hit to him. He had three putouts.
Rangers: Yu Darvish gave up four runs and six hits in five innings Sunday in an intrasquad game. The Japanese rookie struck out 11.
Red Sox: Daniel Bard, competing for a spot in Boston's starting rotation, gave up five runs and six hits in six innings in a 6-5 loss to Toronto.