-- Mark Ellis is slapping hits every which way, a dependable leadoff man for the Oakland Athletics at a time they desperately need one.

For Ellis, this is a resurgence to celebrate after missing all of 2004 with a serious shoulder injury. He came back ready in spring training, though General Manager Billy Beane signed Keith Ginter as insurance in case the second baseman didn't produce or got hurt again.

It's Ellis in the lineup now, with the season on the line and a playoff spot within reach heading into the season's final week. The modest infielder from South Dakota is batting .436 (34 for 78) in September for the A's, who began their day off Thursday 21/2 games behind the AL West-leading Los Angeles Angels.

"No one ever thought Mark Ellis could do this," Oakland outfielder Nick Swisher said. "He's a name to be remembered. If people don't know who he is, turn on the television and check him out. If he doesn't win comeback player, that's ridiculous."

Ellis wasn't part of Oakland's playoff push a year ago when the A's fell short, spending most of the year at home in Arizona, tirelessly working to get himself healthy and strong again. He tore the labrum in his right shoulder in a collision with shortstop Bobby Crosby in a spring training game against the Chicago Cubs.

"I kind of knew that it would take a while at the beginning of the season because I hadn't played for a whole year," Ellis said. "I was hoping things would progress and my arm would get stronger as the year went on, and everything I've expected to happen has happened so far."

The A's were unimpressed when they saw Ellis during the Instructional League last fall. Now, he is closer to the player he was as a rookie in 2002, when he batted .272 with 6 homers and 35 RBI in 98 games.

He gets on base -- three times Tuesday -- and ranks as one of the AL's top second basemen with only five errors in 105 games. Ellis's 26 career homers are the second most by someone from South Dakota and he's inching closer to Dave Collins's mark of 32.

"I never had any doubts about coming back. I knew I could come back and play," Ellis said.