As former highly touted pitching prospects in the organization such as Dennis Tankersley, Ben Howard, and Mark Phillips were trying to figure out how to use their overpowering pitches to get batters out, Padres minor leaguers with less “stuff” were being called up to the big league club and contributing. Brian Lawrence and Brian Tollberg each had a few good seasons after being called up and in 2005, Clay Hensley came out of nowhere to have a dominant second half as a middle reliever.
“You see guys go out there with ‘lights out’ fastballs and they get hit harder than guys that are just hitting their spots,” said Jonathan Ellis, 23, referring to his first season with the Fort Wayne Wizards, the Padres’ low class A affiliate. “It just shows that you can’t go out there and throw as hard as you can. Pitching is a thinking game.”
After a successful college career at the Citadel in which he set a single season school record for most innings pitched in a season with 136.1 and tied a single season record with nine complete games, Ellis was used primarily as a middle reliever at Fort Wayne. He didn’t seem to have much of a problem adjusting to his new role, compiling a 3-0 record and 3.16 ERA in 38 games as a reliever. In five starts, the results weren’t as positive as he went 2-3 with a 5.73 ERA, but he was able to give the Wizards quality starts in three of those appearances.
“It’s not that much of an adjustment,” he said of his transition from college pitching staff ace to middle relief work with the Wizards. “It’s more mental than anything. Starting is more about pacing yourself. As a reliever, you just come in and give it what you got that day.”
It’s hard to believe Ellis is comfortable with being a reliever considering he threw 11 complete games his last two seasons at the Citadel and would throw as many as 150 pitches in a game, but after experiencing the cold April in Fort Wayne last season, which he admits was “pretty drastic”, you kind of get the feeling he’d do whatever it takes to make it to sunny San Diego the fastest way possible, as a starter or a reliever.
“I’d like to be a starter but I’m going to do whatever they want me to do,” he said. “I got used to pitching out of the bullpen this year and it was a good experience.”
It wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see Jonathan Ellis getting major league batters out in the near future while top prospects are still trying to figure out why their 95 mph fastballs are getting knocked around by minor league batters.