This O’s late-season addition put his best foot forward

If the Orioles want to make big improvement next year, maybe they need right-hander Chris Ellis to make every start he possibly can.

Acquired by the club on Aug. 20 on waivers from Tampa Bay, Ellis went 0-0, but posted a 2.49 ERA for the Orioles in six games. Over 25 1/3 innings, he yielded 18 hits, including three homers, with 13 walks and 16 strikeouts. He recorded a WHIP of 1.224, allowing 6.4 hits per nine, with 4.6 walks and 5.7 strikeouts.

He made six starts for the club and the Orioles went 5-1 (.833) in those games. The club did not post a winning record for any other pitcher in his 2021 starts (minimum two starts). But they won five of six Ellis started.

Ellis did end the year on the 10-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation. But he had a nice run late in the season in what was obviously a very small sample size.

To this point, he has been with more organizations in his career (seven) than he has pitched games for the Orioles (six). He does have eight career total big league appearances for three teams, one each with Kansas City and Tampa Bay, and has a career mark of 1-0 and ERA of 2.08 in 30 1/3 innings.

On Aug. 17 pitching for Tampa Bay, he got his first major league win, throwing four scoreless innings with seven strikeouts against the Orioles. Eight days later, he was starting for the Orioles against the Los Angeles Angels, his original big league organization.

Ellis-Throws-Orange-NYY-Sidebar.jpgEllis, who turned 29 on Sept. 22, was drafted by the Angels in round three in 2014, was traded by the Angels to the Braves and by the Braves to the Cardinals. Texas selected him in the 2018 Rule 5 draft and then immediately traded him to Kansas City. In the 2019 season, he lasted about one week and one scoreless inning with the Royals, who then sent him back to St. Louis. The Cardinals later released him and he turned up with Tampa Bay.

So, at 29, has Ellis finally figured it out and is he now ready to help a big league club? Did the O’s find another pitcher that can help them that was discarded by the Rays?

Here’s another question that may be hard to answer: How did Ellis pitch so well for the Orioles, after not pitching well at Triple-A throughout his career?

Last year for Triple-A Durham in the Rays organization, he went 1-5 with a 6.32 ERA. In 315 career innings at the highest minor league level, he is 18-24 with a 6.09 ERA and 1.602 WHIP. However, he is 24-15 with an ERA of 3.84 and WHIP of 1.296 in 309 career innings at Double-A.

In was a very small - but very good - sample size with the ‘21 Orioles. He made four starts last season versus American League East teams - two each versus Toronto and New York - and posted an ERA of 1.86 with a .159 batting average against as the club went 3-1 in those games. He threw five no-hit innings Sept. 4 at Yankee Stadium. A scoring change later turned an error into a hit and so he officially allowed one hit in that outing.

“I think Chris did a great job,” manager Brandon Hyde said late in the season. “I was impressed with a right-hander that, he has life to his fastball, two good breaking balls. I thought he neutralized right-handed hitters really well. I really like the way he competed. He’s been facing some difficult lineups and produced, so that was a blow, losing him. I’d like to see him finish the year. I thought he was really helping us, so tough to see his season end early.”

After what turned out to be his last O’s outing - three scoreless innings against Texas on Sept. 25 - Ellis said he was trying to make the most of his chance with the Orioles. Until this year, he had just one major league inning under his belt.

“It’s been good,” Ellis said of his time with Baltimore. “Honestly, I’ve had a great opportunity as soon as I got here. Hyde let me slide into the rotation, gave me an opportunity. I feel like I did the most that I could with it. I don’t know. It’s been interesting. I want to finish the year out strong, honestly. I don’t know what the future holds with my cards, but it’s been a good opportunity and I’ve tried to do the best I can with it. I’m fairly happy with how the season has gone. I want to end on a high note, obviously, but we’ll see what the future has got in store. It’s not my decision, you know.”

Per FanGraphs.com, Ellis used fastball 48 percent at an average velocity of 93.8 mph, and Statcast numbers showed it produced strong spin rates. He threw his slider 31 percent, his curveball 12 percent and his changeup 9 percent of the time.

Ellis is likely attractive to the Orioles because he pitched well when given the chance. But in addition to that. he has such little service time and also has three options remaining.

He hasn’t pitched enough for anyone to truly consider him likely to make the 2022 opening day roster. On the other hand, he has shown more than enough to be intriguing for the club to want to see more next February and March.

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