BY JAMES BAILEY
BUFFALO—Sometimes, as they say, the third time is the charm. That's certainly proven true for John Ely, who was on the receiving end of more than his share of poundings for Triple-A Albuquerque during his first two seasons in the Dodgers organization.
In 38 Pacific Coast League starts in 2010-11, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound righthander surrendered 248 hits in 212 1/3 innings while posting a 6.06 ERA. That wasn't what the Dodgers had envisioned when they acquired him from the White Sox in 2009 as part of the return for outfielder Juan Pierre.
Ely started fresh this season, determined not to give in to the conditions in the PCL, particularly in Albuquerque, where the scoreboard operator always gets a good workout.
"It took a couple of years of getting my head beat off the wall a little bit in this league to try to figure it out a little bit," says Ely, who was named to the all-star roster after going 8-6, 3.22 in 18 starts over the first half. "The PCL can get to you, man. Ask anybody out here. It's a tough league to pitch in with the travel and the ballparks and the matter that you've got some pretty darn good hitters in this league. I think I underestimated it a little and I probably didn't take it quite as seriously as I should have."
Ely's Dodgers career actually got off to a favorable start. Summoned to the big leagues in late April 2010, he posted a 2.54 ERA through his first seven starts, going 3-2 and holding opponents to two runs or fewer in all but one game. Then the league caught up with him and by July he was back in Albuquerque, where there were no answers to be found.
Though he earned a short look in L.A. last year, he spent the bulk of the season struggling in Albuquerque, with the league tuning him up for a .301 average. His strikeout rate fell from 7.4 per nine innings to 6.2 as he struggled to make pitches in key situations. This year, by getting ahead of batters and mixing his pitches better, he's pushed his K-rate to a career-best 9.7 and leads the PCL with 117 strikeouts.
"A lot of it has to do with staying ahead and basically just throwing my best pitches when I have to throw them," says Ely, 26. "You know, making pitches when you need to and realizing, 'OK, this is what I want to do with this pitch right now.' "
His arsenal hasn't changed. He still relies heavily on his changeup, which has always been a go-to pitch, though he has gained confidence in his cutter and fastball.
"It's the same mix as I've always had. It's just a little bit sharper because I'm staying on it better," says Ely, a third-round pick out of Miami (Ohio) in 2007. "I'm just trying to repeat my delivery more so than years in the past, and trying to have a better mix instead of getting into rhythms and getting into predictable counts where everybody knows what's coming and then giving up a home run or a big hit in a big situation."
• This was the 25th Triple-A All-Star Game; Buffalo also was the host in 1988. The sellout crowd was listed at 18,025.
• Veteran slugger Val Pascucci thrilled the hometown crowd by belting 22 home runs in Monday's home run derby. Six came in the final round when he outlasted Charlotte's Dan Johnson to win the title. A crowd of 17,224 turned out for the event. Pascucci, in his third season in Buffalo, has 13 home runs on the year, giving him 51 as a Bison and 244 as a minor leaguer, third-most among active players behind only Mike Hessman and Brad Eldred (who's playing in Japan).
• The American League may have treated righthander Graham Godfrey rudely (0-4, 6.43 in 5 games), but he's had his way in Sacramento, going 8-0 with a PCL-best 2.88 ERA. Godfrey, who has walked just 14 hitters in 78 innings, was named as the PCL's starter. He was 14-3, 2.68 for Sacramento in 2011, when he held opposing hitters to a .227 average. Godfrey has been working this season on maintaining his arm slot and repeating his delivery to keep the ball down in the strike zone.
• International League manager Mike Sarbaugh (Columbus) raved about Indianapolis center fielder Starling Marte: “We just faced him over the weekend and he hit a ball that sounded like it was shot out of a cannon. The ball, it comes off his bat different than most guys. What he can do in the outfield, the ground he can cover, and what he does on the bases, he's a special player.”
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