LOS ANGELES -- Thanks to Vicente Padilla's neck injury coming back, Los Angeles Dodgers rookie right-hander John Ely has a rare opportunity this month. In his effort to secure a spot in what might be a wide-open starting rotation next spring, Ely is getting a head start on the competition by holding down Padilla's spot, presumably for the rest of the season.
Getting that opportunity is one thing. Taking advantage of it is another.
On Saturday, in the Dodgers' 12-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies before 40,191 at Dodger Stadium, Ely was torched for six earned runs over 4 1/3 innings in his second start since being recalled from Triple-A Albuquerque on Sept. 6 and replacing Padilla in the rotation a few days after that.
Most troubling of all was that Ely walked five batters, two more than he had walked in any previous big league start this season. Three of those batters wound up scoring. Two of those walks were to Carlos Gonzalez, which normally would be understandable considering Gonzalez is probably the leading candidate of the moment for the National League Most Valuable Player Award. But the problem is that Gonzalez is followed in the Rockies' lineup by Troy Tulowitzki, the hands-down candidate of the moment for the N.L. Player of the Month award, and Tulowitzki answered each of those walks to Gonzalez by slamming a two-run homer, giving him a record-tying 14 in his past 15 games.
"He pitched to Gonzalez, I hate to say it, like the pitcher was the next hitter," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre, who won't be around next spring to decide whether Ely is one of the team's five starters or to help decide whether he makes the major league club at all. "Unfortunately, it wasn't the pitcher. It was Tulowitzki."
Remember when Ely first came to the majors back in April? Remember how often Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt spoke about, and the media covering the team wrote about, his surprising maturity at such a young age, his willingness to be aggressive and pitch to contact and the remarkable control he used to minimize his walks?
Remember when Ely faced 89 consecutive batters from April 28-May 22 without walking a single one of them?
What ever happened to that guy, anyway?
"What it really came down to today was not getting my offspeed pitches over for strikes," Ely said.
"My changeup, which is usually my go-to offspeed pitch, wasn't there. It was really sporadic, and I only threw a couple of good ones. When that isn't there, I usually try to flip some curveballs in there for strikes. But I couldn't get those over for strikes, either. That basically left me with two similar pitches in the zone, and especially against a team like (the Rockies) that is so hot right now and swinging the bats really well, that just isn't going to cut it."
From his second major league start on May 6 through his seventh on June 6, Ely (4-8) walked seven batters in 45 innings, an average of 1.4 walks per nine innings. Over his next six starts, running from June 12 until he was optioned to Albuquerque on the final day of the first half, that number jumped to 4.8 walks per nine innings, but that wasn't even Ely's biggest problem -- he was sent down after consecutive outings in which he failed to get through the third inning and gave up six runs in each of them.
During that minor league stint, which lasted almost two months, Ely mostly struggled. His September callup wasn't so much merit-based as it was kind of an automatic thing because he had been in the majors earlier and the Dodgers (72-77) were looking for an extra arm in the bullpen, but that plan went awry when Padilla suffered his relapse.
In two big league starts since then, Ely has allowed nine runs on 11 hits in 10 1/3 innings.
"Obviously, command is the most important thing at this level," Honeycutt said. "Certain pitchers can probably get away with a little less command than others, but he is a control guy. When he came up earlier in the year and faced 89 batters without walking anybody, it was phenomenal. But especially with young guys, they go through different periods that they have to experience and learn from.
"Overall, I thought he pitched pretty well (in his previous start on Sept. 11) in Houston. But five walks is really something he just can't afford to do."
Catcher A.J. Ellis went 3 for 3 with a walk, his third career three-hit game and his second in less than 24 hours. Ellis, who went 3 for 4 with two doubles in Friday night's loss to the Rockies, has raised his batting average from .205 to .265 in his past three games.
"He has been working his tail off," Torre said. "He has been working tirelessly with (hitting instructor Jeff) Pentland on his approach and on shortening his swing. When his swing is long, it's slow. Now, he is shorter and quicker. He is one of the first guys here every day, hitting in that cage, and I know he is tickled by the results he is getting."
Ellis, who has been in the organization for eight years and is in his third major league stint this season, has an outside shot of beginning next season as the backup catcher. That probably depends on what the club decides to do about primary catcher Russell Martin, who is out for the season with a hip injury and could be non-tendered, and veteran Rod Barajas, who is a potential free agent but could be re-signed.
"I'm just trying to keep improving," Ellis said. "I know I have a long way to go offensively and defensively, and it's important to make the most of my opportunity."
Any lingering sliver of a chance that Scott Podsednik would play again this season is gone now thanks to doctors putting Podsednik's plantar fasciitis-infected left foot in a walking boot that he has to wear for three weeks.
"I'm just going to be a good teammate," Podsednik said.
Six weeks after being traded to the Dodgers by the Kansas City Royals, Podsednik said he hasn't even begun to think about what he wants to do after the season. He has a $2 million contract option for next year that became mutual when he reached 525 plate appearances, meaning he could opt for free agency. It also isn't clear what the Dodgers plan to do about the option, which carries a comparatively modest, $100,000 buyout.
"There will be a time and a place for that, and that time isn't right now," Podsednik said. "We still have two weeks left in the season. ... It has been comfortable here. It would have been a lot better if we had won more games, and I don't think we clicked the way we should have. But in terms of just comfort, I felt comfortable here."
Quote of the Day
"We had a good run over the last year and a half with some of our younger players. Russell, of course, missed a good part of this year, and Ethier was on the disabled list, and Matt was out there all by himself and just hit a wall. To me, I think in Matt's case, with all the things that fell on him last year and the great year he had offensively and winning the Gold Glove in center field, he started out really well (this year), but there is a period of adjustment that other teams go through. They have to adjust to you, and when they do, it's your job to adjust back. I think that is where he is stuck right now. I think he will be fine, and I think Ethier will be fine. I have said it before, they have to find a way to play this game mentally better than they played it this year. Again, it's not unusual for an inexperienced player to fight through those things. It's all about adjustments in this game, and that is a big part of it. It's a tough grind mentally." -- Torre on the future of Russell Martin, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com