THESE DAYS, you would never know that just a few years ago Jordan Ellis was a scared, hurt kid.
And you can't tell that, as recently as three seasons before, he was an overthinking, frustrated reliever at the bottom of the Phillies' system.
These days, Ellis is a composed, 25-year-old righthander at Double A Reading, living at home with his parents in Bryn Mawr, pitching in front of a handful of friendly faces whenever the R-Phils are at home.
He has a live fastball, a slider that bites, and a cut fastball that, a year into its development, is coming along nicely as a weapon against lefthanders.
He also has a sense of peace that is as novel as the cutter.
"He's grown, over the years. He wasn't this way 3 years ago, by any means," said Reading pitching coach Bob Milacki, who coached Ellis at Lakewood in 2009. "He's starting to be a better self-evaluator. More realistic."
Realistically, Ellis realized, he was a two-pitch pitcher with a hard fastball he couldn't command. That's why other players advanced ahead of him.
"It makes him a better teammate," Milacki said. "I think sometimes he thought, he didn't understand that, if he had such good stuff, why someone else was better than him, or he should be moving up."
Now, he said, he doesn't worry about who is moving up. He has learned the hardest lesson.
"I was trying too hard. Thinking too much," Ellis said. "Now, it's just coming to me. I think less. I try not to think at all. That was killing me on the mound."
Of course, he had plenty of time to think.
Ellis, who underwent Tommy John surgery to repair his right elbow when he was a 16-year-old at Radnor High School, lost his first season at the University of Virginia to injury. He was diagnosed with bone spurs in his pitching elbow. Surgery in November 2004 offered no relief. That spring, he threw two innings, threw through pain, and finally he insisted on another examination.
He wanted to see renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala. UVA sent him to Alabama, where, he said, Andrews removed scar tissue and more spurs.
By the time Ellis was finished with his freshman season, he had been operated on three times.
"Mentally, I was down. Being young, going through that - it's not a good feeling, especially when all you want to do is play ball," Ellis said.
A solution: Come home.
"I didn't feel I would have an opportunity at Virginia," said Ellis, who wanted to start but had to work his way back up the Cavaliers' ladder. "I was at the bottom of the barrel.
"Coming home I felt I'd have a chance to start much more. Get a lot more innings. My family would be able to see me."
So Ellis transferred to Villanova.
"Family was closer. Having surgery after surgery, it's kind of hard to stay positive," Ellis said. "You follow your dream, it's not something you want to quit on. I didn't quit on it."
The dream just got better.
Ellis, finally healthy midway into his sophomore season, went 14-11 in his 3 years at Villanova. Then he was drafted in the 28th round of the 2008 draft by his hometown team.
After two inconsistent seasons, Ellis hit his stride last year. In 53 games at low-A Lakewood and high-A Clearwater, he compiled a 2.38 earned run average with 15 saves and 89 strikeouts in 75 innings.
This season he cruised through Clearwater and didn't allow a run in six outings before hitting Reading, where he had allowed one run in six outings before Harrisburg tagged him with two Sunday in a three-inning outing.
That's fine, as long as Ellis keeps commanding his low-90s fastball and dealing the slider.
"He's got plenty of arm strength. Those two 'miserable' pitches, a fastball and slider," said Phillies minor league czar Chuck LaMar. "He's always had good stuff from the time he signed. He just needed the overall maturity and consistency. He seems to be handling it fine."
Part of handling it, Ellis knows, is getting back on the mound after getting knocked off it.
He hadn't allowed a run in his first eight appearances this year before last week's five-out, four-hit, one-run hiccup against New Hampshire. LaMar was in the stands. Ellis knew it.
He made some gorgeous pitches . . . but twice, in two-strike counts, he delivered sliders in the strike zone. The same pitch an inch or 2 outside likely would have kept him clean for the year.
"In certain counts, he has to realize what he can do and what he can't do," Reading manager Mark Parent said after that game. "Where he can miss and where he can't. He's gotten by having a pretty good arm. We'll have to see how he learns from this and what he does next time."
The next time, and the time after, Ellis was splendid; a one-out appearance, which was a strikeout, and a solid, one-inning, one-hit appearance.
"You have to be able to control the failures," Ellis said. "Everything's been on the rise. Hopefully, everything stays that way."