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Are the Dodgers ready for Elymania II?

March 9, 2011 | 11:32 am

Could it happen? Sure. Is it likely? No, but he’s at least building a case and causing the Dodgers to seriously think about him again.

John Ely was a brief sensation last year, answering the team’s ongoing call for a fifth starter and responding better than anyone had dared dream. Better than Ned Colletti, Joe Torre, Ely and Ely’s mommy dreamed.

During six consecutive starts from May 6 to June 1, he was 3-1 with a 1.80 ERA. He went 89 consecutive batters without allowing a walk. You kept blinking wondering if it were true.

And then it all came undone, as if Salvador Dali had suddenly taken control of Ely's pitching landscape. In his last 11 starts he went 1-8 with a stunning 8.00 ERA, including 32 walks in 54 innings.

He clearly was not the same pitcher, which is why he was ticketed for a return to triple-A Albuquerque this season.

Yet in his first three appearances this spring, he has yet to allow a run. And he is throwing strikes -- the key to his early success last season. He has yet to walk a batter and has seven strikeouts in six innings.

OK, so six spring innings amounts to precious little, but if he continues anywhere near this pace, he will pitch himself back onto the 25-man roster.

There’s no room in the rotation, but with Vicente Padilla injured and Ronald Belisario doing his annual visa dance, there are two unexpected openings in the bullpen. And Padilla was supposed to start the season as the long man.

Ely could certainly fill that role if he’s truly back on his game.

There’s reason to think he could be too. Last year he appeared to wear down and then completely lost his way. Remember, this was a 24-year-old who, aside from a couple early appearances at Albuquerque, had never pitched above double-A until last season. He had only been in the minors three years and had never thrown as many as 160 innings in any season.

Now he has a fresh start, a fresh arm and the unexpected experience from last season. The opportunity is there for him to pitch himself back onto the team.

Don Mattingly keeps saying he is not interested in keeping another left-hander in the bullpen just for the sake of a second lefty, which would only help Ely’s cause. The competition is still thick -- Ramon Troncoso, Mike MacDougal, Lance Cormier, Scott Elbert, Ron Mahay, Carlos Monasterios and now Tim Redding are all in the mix.

Ely is never going to light up the speed gun, but he proved last season that when he pitches with control, he can be highly effective. When he doesn’t, he looks overmatched.

In three early appearances this spring, he has had that control.

-- Steve Dilbeck

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