BALTIMORE—Chris Ellis has gone from organization to organization, six in all, looking for a team he can call his own. Since 2014, when the 6-foot-5 right-hander was the third-round draft choice of the Los Angeles Angels, Ellis moved on from the Angels to the Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Rays, and now the Orioles.
Nearly all the time was spent in the minor leagues. Until this year, Ellis had spent just one inning in the majors with Kansas City in March 2019.
On August 17th, Ellis got another chance, and he pitched four scoreless innings for Tampa Bay against the Orioles. He allowed three hits and struck out seven, getting the win and a designation for assignment the next day by the Rays.
Immediately claimed by the Orioles, Ellis tried to make the best of another transaction.
“I’m not going to lie. It’s [tough] not having a home, not being in a place for an extended period of time,” Ellis said. “You feel like you’re always working with new coaches, meeting new people. I want to find a home and stay put somewhere, but at the same time, I’ve met so many cool people and worked with so many good pitching coaches. It’s really helped me be the pitcher I am today. I feel like a melting pot of all different ideas and philosophies of pitching. I just pick what I learned off everybody and better myself off that.”
Given a chance with the Orioles, Ellis has flourished. Heading into his start on Friday night against Toronto, the 28-year-old has allowed four runs on eight hits in 12 2/3 innings.
In his last start, Ellis pitched five one-hit innings against the New York Yankees. They were hitless innings at the time, but Aaron Judge’s line drive to leftfielder Ryan McKenna was changed from an error to a hit on Thursday.
“It was sick,” Ellis said of pitching in the Bronx. “It’s what every minor leaguer, every guy growing up dreams of, going to Yankee Stadium with all these people talking crap to you, and you go and shut them out.
“It was a really cool experience. My family got to watch it on TV, my friends, they loved it. I was like realizing a dream. I made the most of it, and now I want more of it. I’m hungry to go out there and do it every time against Tampa Bay, against the Royals, Toronto, whoever, I want the same feeling.”
Ellis talked about his journey.
“It’s hard to put into words,” he said. “It sounds like a bad competitor saying it, but after you spend so much time in the minor leagues, it’s almost like you become accustomed to being in the minor leagues, being in Triple-A, almost pitching to that level and when I got called up, it was almost like a breath of fresh air. It was almost like I was able to change my mindset.
“I wish I would have done that in the minor leagues a long time ago, and I wish I wouldn’t have spent so much time there. Since I’ve been here, I feel like I’ve been able to flip that switch of a competitive mode, and I understand that now that I’m getting older … this is my opportunity to make a name for myself. I’m trying to do the best I can up here.”
The Rays called up Ellis even though he had a 1-5 record and 6.32 ERA with Triple-A Durham. Then came his game against the Orioles.
“I wasn’t pitching great at Triple-A, but they called me up,” Ellis said. “I did as much as I could with it. Maybe they didn’t see me moving forward with then, but thankfully Baltimore might have seen that, and that’s why they picked me up. The way I see it, it was an opportunity for me to showcase for 29 other teams. I’ve been with five other teams, so I know how it works.
“Who knows what would have happened if I pitched well against the Red Sox. But thankfully I did well with the opportunity I was given and the Orioles liked me, and it’s been a great opportunity and a great place to be.”
Ellis has enjoyed the competition and the perks.
“It’s certainly cool to be treated a little bit better, to stay in nice places, you play that night, you fly out private and you get home and you sleep in your own bed and you show up at the park the next day and you feel good.
“When I was in the Pioneer League a long time ago, those 12-hour bus rides to Montana straight out of college … I took the train the other day for the first time from New York. I thought that was the coolest thing ever. We had the whole train rented out.”
Ellis went from the AL East-leading Rays to the Orioles in the middle of their second-longest losing streak in team history, 19 games. He started the game against the Angels and Shohei Ohtani that ended the streak.
“I see a bunch of guys like myself who want to win, who want to go out there and compete, no matter what happens,” Ellis said. “I don’t know how it was before I got here. After I got here, we lost a few more games before we won, but they were close games. We were tied or they came down to the last few outs.
“The guys on this team are a bunch of winners as far as I’m concerned, and I’m excited about our future. I haven’t spent a whole lot of time in the major leagues, but the time I’ve spent, I have a decent idea of what a winning mentality looks like. A lot of the guys on this team have that. The record doesn’t indicate that, but I think a bit of that is misfortune and how it goes with baseball. I’m excited where this team is going to go. The talent this team has is amazing.”