For pretty much all of last season, Brian Ellington couldn’t find his stuff. He couldn’t throw without pain in his arm, and he couldn’t figure it out.
Seven years into his professional career, he just wasn’t having fun.
“It was miserable going to the field and stuff, and I never thought I’d say that as a kid,” Ellington said before the Tacoma Rainiers’ game against the Salt Lake Bees on Wednesday. “I never thought I’d say that when I got drafted. But when you’re in a spot where you’re lost and it doesn’t seem like there’s an answer in sight, it’s hard to have fun do in anything in life.”
Now, Ellington is six games into his Tacoma career, with a 2.70 ERA. The past year to get here has been a ride, to say the least.
Ellington’s issues stemmed from his motion, particularly a stride that went far across his body, putting more pressure on his right arm. The pain started to flare up at the end of the 2017 season — his third bouncing between the big leagues and Triple-A in the Marlins organization — but instead of dealing with it, he only took anti-inflammatories to help with the pain.
Then the offseason came, he stopped taking the medication, and it all went downhill.
Ellington went to the Diamondbacks organization, where he managed just 15 appearances all year, working around the pain — diagnosed as tendinitis in his bicep. He lasted just until the end of July before being released.
“It was a rough year for me, terrible year,” Ellington said. “Don’t think I had any fun at all, to be honest with you.”
In the offseason, he took a look at his motion and changed the stride. Suddenly, the pain went away, no surgery needed. It was a breath of hope for the 29-year old, who was picked up by the Red Sox going into the season.
But opportunities were sparse in the Boston organization, and Ellington racked up an unsightly 9.00 ERA in his short chance with Triple-A Pawtucket before being released.
That was on June 26. On Aug. 1, Ellington signed with Seattle. In the month between, he found the fun again playing for the Kansas City T-Bones of the American Assosciation.
“It was an interesting standpoint, getting away from minor league baseball, where everybody is worried about what the coordinator thinks, or worried about what this person thinks, or worried about competing against their teammates to move up or get the next job that’s open or get more playing time,” Ellington said. “You’re really just there playing, having fun, and remembering why we all started playing this game when we were little kids.
“It lit a spark underneath me to continue playing this game for as long as I can.”
Ellington went to Kansas City with one goal: pitch as much as he could. In just over a month, he racked up 12 outings, after only having 16 in the two months prior. He finished with 15 strikeouts in 15 innings and a miniscule 0.60 ERA.
In six outings since his Rainiers debut Aug. 2, Ellington has allowed two runs and struck out eight.
“He is a guy that has a nice arm, and it looks like in independent ball he might have found something,” Rainiers manager Daren Brown said. “It’s one of those ‘Pick him up and see what he’s got,’ and so far it’s been good.”
Now, pitching better than he has in years and one step away from the big leagues again, Ellington’s mindset is matching his performance, and he knows from experience that’s how it’s going to stay.
“It’s a heck of a lot more fun playing here, that’s for sure,” Ellington said. “But at the end of the day, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to keep chasing what’s inside your heart and what’s inside your mind that you know what you can do.”