By Parrish Alford
The praise has always been there for Chris Ellis. The production has been mixed.
A 6-foot-5 right-hander from Birmingham, Ellis showed promise as a freshman but never gained solid footing on the 2013 season.
He’ll get the ball today as Ole Miss, picked sixth in the SEC Western Division by league coaches, opens the college baseball season at Stetson at 5:30. The teams will play Saturday at 1 p.m. and Sunday at 11 a.m.
Ellis was 4-0 with a 2.84 earned run average over 19 appearances and 312⁄3 innings two years ago.
He was pegged to be the Sunday starter as a sophomore, but an early abdominal injury forced him to miss six to seven weeks.
When he returned he wasn’t the same. His ERA jumped to 5.57, his opponent’s batting average to .352 from .219. His appearances and innings were both down.
“I wasn’t able to find a role for him last year,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “Mid-way into the season we tried to rush him back against Florida. We tried him in some relief appearances and really just never got him back on track.”
Bianco stands by Ellis as a capable Friday night starter, calling him the “most talented guy we have.”
The website PerfectGame.org supports Bianco’s assessment and projects Ellis as a first-round draft choice in the coming spring.
It wasn’t only about an injury and quick return last year but also about education. Ellis says he matured this summer in the Cape Cod League.
Part of his sophomore struggles came from an inability to nuance batters and situations.
He tried to force his high school approach into his college career, and it didn’t work.
“Last year I was kind of a thrower. I just came out with max effort and tried to blow it by like everybody like I was in high school,” he said. “I found out pretty quick that that didn’t work out the way I thought it would.”
Ellis says success in the Cape helped him understand the options available to him like using his pitches to set up hitters.
He isn’t bitter over his two college seasons and doesn’t complain that fate has dealt him a bad hand.
“I kind of needed it,” he says.
He’s hopeful that health, talent and experience combine to help him post impressive numbers this spring.
“The talent, I’m not really worried about that. I’m just worried about one game at a time. Just let the chips fall,” he said. “You have to learn to overcome stuff. Everything’s not going to be easy for you.”