Commentary

Start was short, road is long for Ely

Updated: July 6, 2010, 1:55 AM ET
By Brian Kamenetzky | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Before his rookie right-hander took the mound for Monday's game against the Florida Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre referred to John Ely as a "ball of jelly."

While not exactly a first-ballot candidate for the Term of Endearment Hall of Fame, Torre meant it as one. Ely, he said, is a floppy-haired kid filled with energy who can't seem to stand still. "That's the way he is. He's fun. Guys love him."

He's been particularly popular over his last two starts, allowing only two earned runs in 14 innings.

Monday, though, Ely was forced -- for 2 2/3 innings at least -- to stay in one place, and the mound at Dodger Stadium was not a particularly kind location.

Trouble found him from the start. Marlins left fielder Chris Coughlin lined a 1-2 pitch to center for a single to lead off the game. Gaby Sanchez followed with another line drive to left center, moving Coughlin to third. After a Hanley Ramirez sacrifice fly scored Coughlin, Ely managed to move in the one instance when standing still would have served him better, as Dan Uggla hit what likely would have been an inning-ending double-play ball had Ely not stretched out his glove to field it, deflecting it away from Blake DeWitt at second.

Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt came to the mound to calm his 24-year old hurler. Ely proceeded to throw his next pitch about 58 feet.

That kind of night, really.

Florida scored two runs in the first, another in the second, and three more in the third. The were all charged to Ely, all but one earned, and enough to force the shortest outing of his brief Major League career in what became a 6-5 Dodgers loss. Any pitcher, certainly one entering the night with 12 big league starts, can suffer a night like this. The next step for Ely is to learn from it.

If there's a silver lining, it's that he'll almost certainly get the chance.

Charlie Haeger failed in his bid to lock down the fifth starter role, and Carlos Monasterios, once activated from the disabled list, will take his place at the very back of the Dodgers' pen. So assuming he doesn't come completely unglued over the next few weeks, Ely will keep his spot in the rotation.

"It's still not going to keep him from pressing," Torre said. "He's still young, and it's still new to him. He may not be able to restore order as quickly as someone who has been down that road a time or two, but that's how you gain your experience. Trial and error."

While Ely isn't exactly scouring the real estate pages in search of his L.A. dream home, understanding he's earned an opportunity to fail makes it easier to pull lessons from poor outings.

"Now that I've had several starts and I know I can perform at this level as good as anybody, it helps to be able to look back and say, 'OK, now what do I do from here?' " Ely said.

Like a lot of pitchers with, as Torre called it before the game, "a less-than-overpowering fastball," Ely succeeds with good location and the ability to goad hitters into a poor approach, trying to pull pitches they shouldn't. Monday, the Marlins hurt Ely up the middle. Of the nine hits he allowed, including the RBI single from Florida pitcher Nate Robertson chasing him from the game, eight were toward center field.

"He was getting behind," Torre said. "They know he's not a power pitcher, so they're not going to try and take liberties as far as pulling the ball. They're going to use the big part of the field, and they did that well tonight. [He has to] get ahead -- 2-0, 3-1, it takes a lot of the guesswork out of hitting."

"He's got some weapons to attack these guys, but in order to do that he's got to have the count in his favor."

In another five days, Ely will get a chance to redeem himself. So far, his track record responding to adversity is strong. In his first career start, Ely was knocked around by the Mets for five runs in six innings. He turned around in his second go 'round and shut down the Brewers, kicking off a string of six straight appearances allowing two earned runs or less. After surrendering seven earned to the Reds in a 7-1 loss June 17, Ely bounced back with seven strong innings in his next start, holding the Angels to a lone run.

But the opportunity is nearly a week away, and in the meantime the ball of jelly will stew over Monday's loss.

"That was probably the most frustrating outing I've had, maybe ever," he said. "That was rough."

Yeah, but it beats wondering when the next flight to Albuquerque leaves LAX.

Game notes

Rafael Furcal, left off the All-Star team despite a huge June push, delivered a two-run homer in the fourth, pushing his hitting streak to nine games (20-38, .526) and his run-scoring streak to 11. Still, Furcal expressed no bitterness at being excluded. "It don't matter," he said. "They pick the people that get to go. It doesn't matter today, because we lost. I'm not going to worry about it now. I [want to] keep playing good, and help my team to a championship." & Ely put the Dodgers in a rough spot, but 6.1 scoreless innings from Jeff Weaver and Ronald Belisario gave them a chance to win. Weaver lowered his ERA at Dodger Stadium to 1.23 over 14.2 innings. & Tuesday night, the Dodgers will send Vicente Padilla (2-2, 5.05) to the mound against Florida righty Chris Volstad (4-7, 4.45).

Brian Kamenetzky is a writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com and co-author of the Land O'Lakers blog.

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