Commentary

Young Ely teaches vets a lesson

Rookie Dodgers pitcher John Ely kept to a simple formula for his first career win

Updated: May 12, 2010, 11:12 AM ET
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com

PHOENIX -- John Ely took the mound in a major league ballgame for the third time in his life on Tuesday night, and the Dodgers' rookie right-hander proceeded to deliver another textbook lesson on the soundest, most effective way to pitch to big league hitters. Only time will tell whether anyone was paying attention.

Ely shut out the Arizona Diamondbacks for six innings, was charged with a pair of runs that scored after he left the game two batters into the seventh, and ultimately came away with his first major league victory, the suddenly surging Dodgers pounding the Diamondbacks 13-3 before 21,030 at Chase Field to claim their fifth win in their past six games.

[+] EnlargeJohn Ely
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinDodgers rookie pitcher John Ely logged his first career win against the D-backs Tuesday.
Almost four years into his own career, Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsley still struggles to throw strikes at times. Almost two years into his own career, Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw does, too.

Three games into his own career, Ely -- whose stuff doesn't compare to that of either Billingsley or Kershaw -- has no such problems. He has issued a grand total of two unintentional walks in his first 18 2/3 major league innings, both of which came in his debut on April 28 at New York. In two subsequent starts, Ely has pitched 12 2/3 innings without walking a batter.

"For sure, I have to do that," Ely said. "I don't have overpowering stuff. I need to be able to throw strikes with all my [pitches]. I really rely on attacking the zone."

Until giving up hits to the first two batters in the seventh, at which point manager Joe Torre came to get him, Ely allowed just one runner to get as far as second base, and Diamondbacks center fielder Chris Young had to steal his way there. Ely gave up six hits, all singles, struck out six and turned in his second outstanding start in six days, with a phantom option to Triple-A Albuquerque in between.

"It just shows you don't have to throw 95 [mph] to get guys out," Dodgers catcher Russell Martin said. "The main thing is just to locate. Even when he misses, he misses off the plate, not over the heart of the plate. He doesn't give the other team a whole lot to work with. After a while, they kind of got out of their game plan and expanded their strike zones and swung at pitches they couldn't hit."

For the season, Ely has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of almost 6-to-1. More importantly, he is averaging 1.4 walks per nine innings, and that counts his one intentional walk. Billingsley, by contrast, is averaging 4.3 walks per nine innings, Kershaw a staggering 6.3. And while Kershaw has given the Dodgers length, pitching into the seventh inning three times and the eighth inning twice, Ely has pitched at least six innings in all three of his starts and into the seventh in two of them.

Billingsley hasn't pitched into the seventh inning of a game since last July 5.

In an odd way, this could be an example of Ely actually benefiting from the fact he doesn't have the stuff that Billingsley and Kershaw possess. If you can't regularly throw in the mid-90s, you have to learn to locate at an earlier stage of your professional career, as opposed to relying solely on your velocity and movement.

It is also worth noting that before becoming a third-round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox in 2007, Ely, who will turn 24 on Thursday, actually put in three years at the major-college level for Miami (Ohio) University. Billingsley and Kershaw, both of whom were first-round picks, were drafted straight out of high school. And, like most highly touted pitching prospects, they were somewhat rushed to the majors, Billingsley arriving at age 21 and Kershaw at 20. When Ely turned 21, he was still pitching in college.

In this case, more seasoning would seem to suggest more readiness for the majors. At the moment, despite his lack of experience, Ely appears to be a more advanced pitcher than either Billingsley or Kershaw, even if he might not be as talented as either of them.

Lost in the Shuffle

It was easy to miss while the Dodgers were scoring 13 runs and pounding out 17 hits, but James Loney went 4-for-6 with a pair of doubles and two RBIs. It was the fourth four-hit game of his career, and he now leads the Dodgers with 15 multihit games this season. On an evening when Diamondbacks ace and three-time All-Star Dan Haren recorded his first nine outs by strikeout, Loney was one of those victims. But he rebounded in his second at-bat, driving a one-out double off the center-field wall against Haren in the fourth inning to start a two-run rally that put the Dodgers in front for good. Loney's second double, off Blaine Boyer with two outs in the ninth, drove in the last of the Dodgers' 13 runs at a point when there appeared to be fewer than 1,000 people left in the ballpark.

Minor Matter

Dodgers prospect Jerry Sands has been named the Midwest League's Player of the Week for the third time in the past four weeks after hitting .400 last week (10-for-25, six extra-base hits). Sands, a power-hitting corner infielder and outfielder, was the Dodgers' 25th-round draft pick in 2008. Through Tuesday, he was leading the Midwest League in hitting (.388), home runs (12), RBIs (29), on-base percentage (.459) and slugging (.819).

Quote of the Day

"I just think the pace of the game has kind of picked up for us. [Pitchers] are getting into a rhythm and keeping everybody on their toes, and so our defense has been better. We are having a lot more quality at-bats and kind of grinding on the other teams. It seems like we're starting to find an identity." -- Russell Martin on the fact that the once-struggling Dodgers have suddenly won five of six, moved within a game of .500 for the first time since April 24, and clinched their first series victory on the road this season.

Looking Ahead

Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (3-1, 2.70) will pitch at Chase Field for the first time since being hit in the side of the head by a line drive from the Diamondbacks' Rusty Ryal last Aug. 15, sending Kuroda to a local hospital with a concussion. Diamondbacks right-hander Edwin Jackson (1-4, 7.32), who is off to a disappointing start after being acquired from Detroit in the offseason, will make his second career start against the team that originally drafted him in the sixth round in 2001.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Tony Jackson

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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