Disabato: John Ely finding that familiar pitching form in Boston Red Sox organization
By Pat Disabato email@example.com Twitter: @disabato July 2, 2014 8:34PM
John Ely, a Homewood-Flossmoor grad now pitching for the Triple -A Pawtucket Red Sox. | Photo courtesy of Jillian Souza
Updated: July 3, 2014 2:15AM
In 2012, John Ely was coming off the best season of his professional baseball career.
He was named the Los Angeles Dodgers Minor League Player of the Year and the Triple-A Pacific Coast League’s Pitcher of Year, going 14-7 with a 3.20 ERA and 165 strikeouts in 1682/3 innings.
He appeared primed for a breakout season in the big leagues in 2013, whether it was on the Dodgers’ major league roster or another team.
As it turned out, it was going to be with another team.
The Houston Astros, in the midst of a serious rebuilding effort, acquired Ely via a trade in December 2012.
“As much as I loved the Dodgers organization, I saw the writing on the wall,” said Ely, 26 at the time. “They had six or seven different pitchers with multimillion dollar contracts on their roster. I deserved a legitimate shot at playing in the big leagues. If not with them, than somewhere else. It turned out Houston traded for me.”
The Astros provided Ely with a great shot to return to the bigs, something he had experienced with the Dodgers in parts of the 2010, ’11 and ’12 seasons.
Ely, however, pitched poorly during spring training in ’13 and out of a spot on Houston’s pitching staff. His arm was killing him, but instead of informing the Astros of his injury, he kept it to himself.
It’s a decision he regrets.
“I couldn’t even hold the ball in my hand,” Ely said. “I was getting smacked all over the yard. But I didn’t want to give someone else a chance to take my job. I should have told them I was hurting. You live and learn.”
On April 24, 2013 Ely had Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow.
It was, at times, a tedious process — especially for a person such as Ely, a mile-a-minute sort of dude.
“Rehab could grate on you, that’s for sure,” Ely said with a laugh. “Lifting one-pound weights and following the schedule. I have a tendency to go 100 mph, but you have to take a step back and follow the program.”
That Ely has done, and the results have been encouraging.
After receiving four or five offers from major league teams, he inked a minor league deal with the Boston Red Sox during the past offseason.
“The Red Sox were adamant and they really wanted me,” said Ely, whose parents still reside in Homewood. “It always feels good to be wanted.”
So far, everything has gone smoothly for Ely, a third-round pick of the White Sox in 2007 out of Miami (Ohio).
So smoothly, in fact, he’s sporting a tidy 1.76 ERA over 151/3 innings out of the bullpen for Pawtucket, the Red Sox’s Triple A affiliate.
“Things are going really, really good,” said Ely, who lives in Chicago’s West Loop during the offseason. “I’m really pleased with the progress I’ve been able to make. My arm feels fantastic.”
Ely has regained his pre-surgery velocity, sitting consistently between 88 and 92 mph. His 12-to-6 curveball has been effective and his changeup, always his bread-and-butter pitch, has returned to form.
Most important, he’s pain-free.
Now 28, Ely never doubted he would return to form. His love for the game and the art of pitching were too strong to ever consider hanging up the spikes. The young man is a throwback and impossible not to admire.
He loves the Red Sox organization, referring to it as “first class” several times during our conversation. As much as he yearns to return to the majors, his driving force is to one day be a part of a World Series championship — no matter how long it takes.
If he were able to accomplish that ambition in Chicago, it would be that much sweeter.
“The goal as a player is to win a World Series,” he said. “I feel like I’m good enough to help a team do that. But can you imagine winning a World Series in that city, especially with the Cubs? I’m a die-hard White Sox fan, but I would give anything to come back and play in that town and win a World Series.”
Spoken like a true winner.