Monday, June 11, 2012

Credit To AJ and the Cap

Missed this one when it posted late last week, but ESPN's Jerry Crasnick credits Chris Capuano and A.J. Ellis for the Dodgers' surprising start:

When Los Angeles Dodgers starter Chris Capuano stares in for the sign from catcher A.J. Ellis and they decide whether to go with the fastball, changeup or curve, an additional, subconscious thought flashes across the 60 feet, 6 inches that separate them:

In light of all the obstacles they've endured, they're fortunate to even be in the major leagues right now.

Both are well-spoken, engaging and thoughtful college graduates. Capuano, valedictorian of his high school class in Massachusetts, has an economics degree from Duke University, where he was a Phi Beta Kappa. Ellis, who has a bachelor's in communications with a minor in creative writing from Austin Peay State University, joins George Sherrill and Shawn Kelley of Seattle and Matt Reynolds of Colorado as one of four former Governors players in the big leagues.

Get beyond their curriculum vitae to the unspoken parts of their résumés, and you'll find that Capuano is an erstwhile medical train wreck and Ellis is a career minor league backup who spent four years at Triple-A before landing his big break. Both players are longer on perseverance than raw tools. But where would the Dodgers be without them?

Matt Kemp's march to a National League MVP award has been stalled by a hamstring injury; Ted Lilly is out with a shoulder injury; and the Dodgers rank 14th in the NL with 41 homers. On the way to a major league-best 36-21 record, they've gotten welcome contributions from Aaron Harang, Josh Lindblom, Jerry Hairston Jr., Elian Herrera and Los Angeles Angels refugee Bobby Abreu, among others.

But no one has surpassed expectations for manager Don Mattingly more than the team's surgically repaired lefty and terminally underappreciated catcher.

Crasnick goes on to profile both players, but the Ellis one is particularly interesting as he discusses how Ellis "turned it around":

Ellis thought his career was on the move when he hit .346 in the Arizona Fall League in 2006. But the next season in Double-A ball, he glanced up at the scoreboard in Knoxville, Tenn., and saw a big fat .160 batting average staring back at him. When his manager, John Shoemaker, summoned him to his office, Ellis thought he was about to be demoted or released. Instead, Shoemaker told Ellis he was pressing and ordered him to refrain from all baseball-related activities for two days to clear his head. Ellis had permission to shag fly balls and watch games from the dugout and nothing more.

He emerged from his hiatus with a fresh, new mindset. "I was back in the lineup the third day, and it wasn't a job or a grind anymore,'' Ellis says. "I was excited to play. That moment made me realize that baseball is supposed to be fun. It's supposed to be a game. And when you try to take control of things you have no control over, you're done.''

In parts of nine minor league seasons, Ellis racked up more walks (336) than strikeouts (283) and logged an impressive .406 on-base percentage. But he had to fight for every scrap. When the Dodgers sent him to the minors last year because he still had options and wouldn't have to clear waivers, his frustration boiled over and he expressed his displeasure to the manager.

"He felt like he was ready,'' Mattingly says. "He was pissed, to be honest. He said, 'You're sending the wrong guy out.'

"I like the fact that he stood up for himself. A.J. has always been the kind of guy who'll take it and do the right thing and say the right thing, but it was like he said, 'I've had enough. I can play here.' He's hard to sell short, because he goes to great lengths to be good.''

AJ definitely seems to have put more of the pieces together for this season, and the stats don't lie. Here's hoping it helps him punch a ticket to Kansas City in July.


Fernie V said...

AJ Ellis you know what Ichiro says about the summers in Kansas city.