The first seven starts of John Ely‘s major-league career were pretty good in 2010. He had a good 2009 season in Double-A, which is probably why the Dodgers were happy to obtain him as a player to be named later in the deal that sent Juan Pierre to the Chicago White Sox.
Otherwise, there wasn’t much on Ely’s resume that would have predicted his 2012 numbers for the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes. When he was added to the Dodgers’ 40-man roster and recalled to Los Angeles on Saturday, Ely was line for the Pacific Coast League’s pitching triple crown: 14-7, a 3.20 ERA and 165 strikeouts (the 14 wins are tied for the league lead).
“Coming into the year, if you had told me I’d have put up those numbers, I don’t know if I’d believe you,” Ely said. “I know I’m capable of it. I just wanted to be consistent. I didn’t imagine it would lead to the year I did have. But here we are. I’m ecstatic about the way things have been going.”
Maybe Ely’s secret weapon was more powerful than even he could have thought.
When he was outrighted in November of last year, Ely said he realized “something’s got to change here, I’ve got to sew some things up.
“In the off-season, I really hit the ground running and came into spring training with a full head of steam,” Ely continued. “I know it wasn’t a big league spring training, but I felt it’s one of those things, you’ve got to kind of wear a chip on your shoulder. That’s kind of how I took it.”
That chip on his shoulder included a re-dedication to his fastball and changeup. The right-hander had always relied on the changeup as an “out pitch,” but he took it to another level in 2012.
“For the most part, I’ve been driving my fastball better and I think that’s helped for the most part,” he said. “I’m not nit-picking at the edges. ‘All right, here it is, hit it, this is what I’ve got.’ Playing my changeup off of that has really made me a better pitcher.”
Tim Federowicz, Ely’s primary catcher at Triple-A who was also recalled from Albuquerque on Saturday, said that Ely is “probably twice the pitcher he was.”
“His changeup is probably the best changeup that I’ve ever caught,” Federowicz said. “It’s very good. He’s been locating it well. As well as the fastball. He’s been fun to catch.”
For all of his success in the PCL, it’s not the same as the National League, and Ely will basically start at the bottom rung of the Dodgers’ pitching staff. Don Mattingly said that Ely would only start “if something were to happen” to one of the current five starters, or come out of the bullpen “if a game gets in trouble or a guy is banged up early.”
That’s a fairly limited scope of duties — and a bitter pill to swallow in Albuquerque, where the Isotopes’ magic number for clinching a playoff spot is down to two in the final week of the season. Ely is eligible to make the Dodgers’ postseason roster (if they get there) but the Isotopes will have to make the playoffs without their best pitcher.
For his part, Ely wasn’t ever counting on a call-up. He said it came as no surprise that Stephen Fife and Nathan Eovaldi were promoted to the major-league before him this year, since both were on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster at the time.
“I’m just glad that I could re-open some eyes and make it back up to the major-league level,” he said.