It's fitting that on the Fourth of July -- a day as synonymous with America as baseball or apple pie -- Shaun Ellis would put an exclamation point on his attempt at fulfulling his American dream.
The Reds farmhand gave up an unearned run on one hit over a career-high seven innings as Pensacola defeated Jackson, 2-1, on Thursday.
Ellis, who struck out five, gave up a second-inning single to Ji-Man Choi. His one walk in the fourth ended up hurting the Florida native as Chris Taylor stole second after his base on balls and came around to score on a 6-3-4 double play.
"Just throwing all my pitches for strikes and showing that I had the confidence to throw them all in fastball counts," Ellis said of his approach on the mound. "To the lefties, it was my change-up because they were so far in front looking for the fastball, and to righties, it was the slider. I heard they were a really aggressive team so it was important to mix in pitches."
It's been an unusual path that has brought Ellis to the Southern League this year. Originally a 32nd-round pick by the Phillies in 2008, the Pennsylvania native was cut during Spring Training the following year. He spent 2009 pitching in the Frontier League before bouncing around between the American Association and the Canadian American Association in 2010 and 2011.
His journey took him from Illinois to New Jersey to Texas before finding his way to a semi-pro league in Brooklyn, N.Y. It was that final stop in the Pedrin Zorrilla League that gave Ellis hope.
"I told myself my arm isn't done and I'm fairly young so try to give it one more try at playing in the Minor Leagues," he said.
While coaching at a baseball camp over the winter, the 26-year-old right-hander convinced a scout to give him a tryout and the club signed him to a Minor League deal in late January.
"It's a dream come true. I never would have imagined I'd be here today. I just wake up every morning and tell myself to compete with the best of them and I'm still here, so I'm grateful for that."
A reliever for most of his career at Polk Community College, Ellis became a starter while working in the independent leagues. It was there he began to experiment with a change-up. The third pitch's improvement has helped him find success with the Blue Wahoos. He's gone 3-1 with a 3.21 ERA in 20 games this season.
"I was always a fastball-slider guy. I tried learning a change-up, but for some reason with the coaches I was working with, it wouldn't click," the hurler said. "When I came here, Tom Brown helped me with my grip and it clicked."
Of his 20 outings, six have been starts, which is where he's had the most success. He's 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA and has allowed 23 hits in 30 innings. Ellis hopes that outings like Thursday's can help him make a permanent move to the rotation.
"We're replacing Chad Rogers, who was our Opening Day guy, so I'm going up against every other team's Opening Day pitcher," Ellis said. "It's a great way to show that I can compete and prove that I belong at this level and play against those guys."
Josh Ravin followed Ellis and fanned two over a hitless inning of relief while Trevor Bell gave up a hit in the ninth en route to his fourth save.
Reds' No. 20 prospect Yorman Rodriguez doubled home a run in the sixth and Marquez Smith singled him in to provide the winning margin for Pensacola.
Anthony Fernandez fell to 5-4 after yielding two runs on five hits while striking out five over seven innings for the Generals.