LAS VEGAS — When pitcher Josh Ellis was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks last year, his older brother, Las Vegas 51s catcher A.J. Ellis, joked maybe they'd face each other in Triple A “down the road” when he was on a major-league rehabilitation assignment and his baby brother was just arriving at that level.
But the sibling showdown of the two former Paul Laurence Dunbar High School stars happened much sooner than either of them expected, as Josh Ellis was promoted Wednesday to the Tucson (Ariz.) Sidewinders and pitched against the 51s in Las Vegas on Thursday.
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“It's something we always joked about, but we never expected it to happen this soon,” A.J. Ellis, 27, said before the 51s' 8-6 victory over the Sidewinders. “I'm really excited for him just to have an opportunity to be in Triple A. I'm really proud of him and the way he's thrown the ball.”
Josh Ellis, 23, who was Wake Forest's closer last season, is 2-2 with seven saves and a 1.85 ERA in 25 games this season for Class A Visalia, scattering 30 hits in 432⁄3 innings, with 43 strikeouts and 12 walks.
He expects to be with Tucson for only a few days but said, “It still comes as a shock to come all the way up to Triple A.”
“When I found out, I was really excited I was going to Triple A, but then to find out I was going to Las Vegas to face my brother, you can't beat it,” he said before the game. “It's way more exciting.”
Josh Ellis tossed two scoreless innings Thursday, allowing one hit while facing the minimum six batters.
But unfortunately for the Ellis brothers and their parents, who attended Thursday's game, A.J. sat out in favor of Las Vegas catcher Rene Rivera.
A.J. Ellis lobbied Las Vegas Manager Lorenzo Bundy before the game to let him pinch-hit if his brother pitched, saying, “It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
But with the 51s carrying only two catchers, Bundy couldn't take a chance on using Ellis as a pinch hitter.
A.J. Ellis, batting .294 (50-for-170) with two homers, a team-high four triples and 38 RBI in his first season in Triple A, might be fortunate he didn't have to face his brother, who had promised to plunk him.
“He's told me since the day I was drafted that whenever he got drafted and we faced each other in pro ball, he's going to hit me right in the back on my first at-bat,” said A.J. Ellis, who joked he'd charge the mound if he did get hit. “He's wild enough to do something like that.”
Josh Ellis said he was only joking with his brother, but “I've been getting a lot of texts from his friends saying I need to peg him.
“I think I'll just try to strike him out. That's easier bragging rights,” Josh Ellis said. “He's beaten me up enough that I know not to peg him.”
If the Ellis brothers continue their impressive play, maybe they'll team up in a future Triple-A All-Star Game. A.J. recently was named a Pacific Coast League All-Star and will play in the Triple-A All-Star Game on Wednesday.
“I know I'm going as a replacement, but even that's a great honor, and the fact the game is in Louisville, Ky., makes it all the more sweeter,” said A.J. Ellis, who was raised in Lexington and resides there with his wife, infant daughter and Josh. “I want to keep proving to myself and others that I can catch at the major-league level, and I feel like I'm doing that.”