2/25/2013 8:29 P.M. ET
After leg scare, Ellis overcomes mental hurdles
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- One emotion you don't often hear Major League players admit to is fear.
But after nearly losing his left leg in a violent collision while trying to turn a double play last May, Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis remembers what it was like returning to action and, when it was time to turn that first double play, he didn't turn it.
"Mentally, it took me time to get over it," Ellis said. "I didn't hang in there. I should have turned it and didn't and I was letting my teammates down. I finally came to the realization, if I get hit, so what?
"That first one, though, was terrible, awful. We were in Arizona for my second game back. It was close, bang-bang, and I didn't get it done. I was mad at myself. I felt I should have been stronger mentally and it really bothered me. Nobody said anything, but you know in your heart. I'm sure people who saw it realized. Then in Miami [a month later], same thing. I had to get it in my head to just hang in there."
Ellis, his left leg still planted as he was about to throw to first, was upended on an aggressive takeout slide by St. Louis baserunner Tyler Greene. When Greene apologized later, Ellis told him he did nothing wrong.
However, trauma from the contact, not immediately realized, was similar to those suffered in auto accidents. Ellis required an emergency fasciotomy the next day to relieve pressure from the swelling when it was determined that a lower-leg muscle had been cut, causing bleeding that was trapped by the muscle sheath.
Had the surgery not been performed, doctors told Ellis he might have lost the leg. He was hospitalized for five days and spent another five in bed with an eight-inch incision that required medication to blunt the pain and prevent infection. He needed seven weeks to return to the Dodgers.
"I was a little worried about the future," he said. "It's not a normal baseball injury."
With a reputation for superior defense, supported by the second-highest fielding percentage all-time for second basemen, Ellis had to fight through the apprehension, as well as the lingering pain.
"You've got to forget and move on," he said. "That's the good thing about baseball, because you play every day and don't have time to worry, not like football with a week between games. If you can't get over it pretty quick, you won't be playing the game anymore."
The Dodgers were 22-11 before Ellis was injured. He returned July 4 and played a total of 110 games in 2012, but he concedes his ankle was sore most of the year.
He won't, however, link the injury to an unexpected struggle he had last year hitting right-handed pitching, which indirectly led to the acquisition of left-handed-hitting Skip Schumaker, who will back up Ellis and could encroach on playing time against right-handed pitching.
When the Dodgers signed Ellis after the 2011 season to an $8.75 million deal for two years plus an option, he had a .265 career average against right-handed pitching. But in 2012, he hit only .228 against righties and .321 against lefties.
"It's just pitch selection against right-handers, because career-wise it's not that drastic," Ellis said. "It's not that I can't hit right-handers. I've done it in the past. But it is a situation where you sit back in the offseason and wonder what happened. So I watched the video and I talked to Mark [McGwire, hitting coach] and we feel it's just swinging at the wrong pitches."
Ellis, now 35 and an 11-year veteran, was signed to replace Jamey Carroll. Manager Don Mattingly describes Ellis as "meat and potatoes," a compliment to his consistency and sound fundamentals.
He joined the Dodgers when they were in bankruptcy. Now they have the highest payroll in baseball.
"When I signed, I knew good things would be happening, but I didn't know it would be this great," he said of the spending spree on marquee talent. "Even then it was still the Dodgers, with all the history of the organization. Obviously it's an exciting time to be here."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.