Quiet Confidence

Chris Ellis is getting ready for semester exams which are next week. His on the field exams begin in mid-February.

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Coming out of fall baseball, it is the Rebel junior right-hander that has emerged as the probable weekend first-game starter for Ole Miss baseball 2014. That first weekend will be on the road at Stetson.

Ellis didn't actually prove he is worthy of the spot on the mound this fall. He took the fall off, as his Ole Miss coaches recommended, after a summer of pitching in New England and a spring of mainly recovery from injury.

What 2012 and 2013 haven't been for Ellis in his quest to help the Rebels, the Spain Park High (Hoover, Ala.) product believes 2014 will be.

"I like having high expectations for myself," said Ellis, whose abdominal pull in late January never totally healed during the course of last season and didn't allow him the opportunity to fulfill his role.

"I'd set them for last year but kinda had that bad year. Then I went off to the Cape and pitched. So I have those high expectations again now."

In Cape Cod this past summer he pitched for the Cotuit Kettleers with seven starts and 37.2 innings and a 2.38 ERA with 23 strikeouts and 10 walks. The numbers are important but the fact that he was able to pitch and do so effectively was even more important.

One blogger, called Mack's Mets, evaluated Ellis' time in the Cape this way: "He flashed 1st round stuff throughout the summer. His power curve looks borderline unhittable at times, and the change has a lot of late life. His frame can still fill out, and the FB velocity is only going to increase and become more consistent."

The Perfect Game website ranked its top 150 draft prospects in the Cape Cod League after this summer. Among all players, not just pitchers, Ellis was listed at No. 5.

"You go up there and the competition you face is from guys from all around the country," said Ellis, drafted by the Dodgers in what was then the 50th and final round out of high school in the summer of 2011. "They're like the best at their school. So you find out where you belong, where you match up with other guys."

Ellis found out not only that, but also that he was healed from his sophomore injury situation.

"It was like a fresh start for me," he said.

That was actually supposed to be 2013. His freshman season in 2012 he was able to get his feet wet. He was 4-0 with 19 appearances and one start. He had a 2.84 ERA in 31.2 innings.

Even after the abdominal injury last winter, he pitched early for Ole Miss. He started the first weekend, game three of the TCU series. He got the win that day, and Ole Miss completed the sweep.

He would only start one more game last season, only making 13 appearances all season. After the Cape summer, it was a fall of mainly rest and recovery, and to make sure he was as ready physically as he could be when practice rolls around in January.

The physical aspect is only one part of a pitcher's makeup. The mental part also weighs heavily into whatever success a pitcher will have. Ellis said he's worked on the latter as well, knowing being a Southeastern Conference weekend starter, perhaps for him a first-game starter, takes tremendous mental toughness.

"You can have the best stuff in the country and if you don't have it mentally, most likely you aren't going to succeed," the 6-foot-5 Ellis said. "Not in the SEC when everyone's good."

Bianco says he believes Ellis is ready for big year
Bruce Newman

Every player is different. Every pitcher is different. That's also in reference to personality.

Some pitchers are animated. Some are vocal. Some are both. Brett Huber was that way. Bobby Wahl pretty much fit that mold.

"That's not really my deal, not really my style," Ellis said.

He's more the quiet, reserved type. More like Drew Pomeranz. More like Lance Lynn, even.

He knows that.

Certainly someone who potentially is one of the 14 first-game starters in the SEC needs to be precisely who he is.

Ellis knows that, too.

"The important thing is embracing your style, embracing who you are and being able to go out and do your thing.

"You have to know when to turn it on," he continued, talking about the difference of actually being on the mound and then off it. "You have to know when to flip that switch. I think at that point when you're on the mound, everyone's pretty much the same, trying to do things right. You can react however you want coming off the field after you strike somebody out."

Ellis tries to find the best way to describe this, that when he's done on the mound in an inning, he normally strolls to the dugout. He's just laidback, by his own admission.

Head coach Mike Bianco has even had discussions with him about it.

"He was concerned that I'm not that fist-pump kind of guy. He really wants me to be a leader through my actions," Ellis said. "How I work in the weight room. How I speak to the younger guys just getting here. Teaching them the ways we do it around here. He knows I'm not going to run around and yell at somebody, things like that. So we talked about doing what I do best, and that's speaking with my actions."

By actions, of course, Ellis mainly means on the mound pitching for his team. Above all else, that's where the Rebels need him to be loudest.

Bianco and staff know the stuff is there and the velocity is there. They know who he is and they believe in what he can do.

"Even though he didn't pitch this fall, we've seen enough out of him in bullpens to know he's really primed to have a great year," Bianco said.

Throughout the fall, when he wasn't pitching during those weeks, Ellis was still working to get better on the mound.

"I watched video of myself. I watched video of successful pitchers. Knowing where I stand and being able to see what I was doing wrong because I hadn't pitched all that much in so long. Just getting ready for the season in that way."

He ended up pitching some bullpens late in the fall and even a couple of intrasquad innings. Then there was the Omaha Challenge competition as a team. Now it's getting ready for those finals next week before the holidays and returning to prepare for his place in the rotation.

"It's everyone's dream to be a Friday night guy in the SEC," Ellis said. "That's something you really have to kind of harness, and use that in a positive way and not let it get to your head. Just work hard and be prepared, and that's the way I'm approaching it."

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