Angels right-hander Jerome Williams, shown pitching with the San Francisco… (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press )
When the call came at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jerome Williams ignored it because he didn't recognize the number. Then came a text message from the same number. It was Williams' triple-A manager, Keith Johnson, telling him to call.
When the two spoke, Johnson told Williams the Angels were calling him up to the big leagues, where the 29-year-old right-hander hasn't pitched since 2007.
"I said, 'Don't mess with me!' " Williams said. "I didn't believe it. So much was going through my mind, from playing independent ball to going overseas. I was speechless."
Williams was so excited he couldn't sleep Tuesday night. He caught a morning flight from Salt Lake City to Orange County on Wednesday and yawned several times during a pregame interview, which was understandable. "I haven't slept yet," Williams said.
He should have a few days to recover. Though Manager Mike Scioscia said Williams will pitch out of the bullpen for now, Williams will probably replace struggling 21-year-old Tyler Chatwood in the rotation Sunday against Baltimore.
"We're going to take a look at a few things," Scioscia said, a sure sign he is contemplating a change. "Tyler is having some issues with fastball command. He was in pitcher's counts for only a couple hitters" Tuesday night, when Chatwood was rocked for five runs and eight hits in two-plus innings of a 7-3 loss to Texas.
Williams signed a minor league contract with the Angels on June 16 and went 7-2 with a 3.91 earned-run average in 11 games for Salt Lake, including a complete-game victory against Omaha on Sunday.
He struck out 60, walked 15 and gave up 10 home runs in 732/3 innings. His fastball, which dipped to 84 mph because of a shoulder injury in 2007, sat in the 92-mph range and hit 94.
"I'm attacking the zone, throwing my fastball more and letting it go," Williams said. "This is the hardest I've thrown in four years."
A first-round pick of the San Francisco Giants in 1999, Williams went 23-29 with a 4.25 ERA in 76 big league games from 2003 to 2007.
After he was released by Washington in August 2007, Williams pitched in the Twins, Dodgers and A's organizations, in Taiwan, Puerto Rico, Mexico and two independent leagues.
In addition to the shoulder injury, he battled weight problems. After he was traded from the Giants to the Cubs in 2005, Williams ballooned from 200 pounds to 270. He weighed 265 with the Nationals in 2007 but has since trimmed to 235 pounds.
Williams hopes he has shed a label of being lazy, one he concedes he deserved.
"I was young. I felt invincible. Obviously, I wasn't," Williams said. "I relied on talent then. I have to show people I've changed. I'm older. I know more about baseball and life."
He learned something about work ethic in Taiwan, where he regularly threw 200-pitch bullpen sessions.
"I got stronger," Williams said. "When I had shoulder problems, I had to take energy drinks every day just to get up and throw."
Who needs Red Bull now? Williams could probably get by on adrenaline this week.
"There were times I thought about quitting, but my wife and kids pushed me, they want me to play," said Williams, a Hawaii native. "I will do this until they tell me to stop, which will probably be never."
To make room for Williams on the 40-man roster, triple-A outfielder Reggie Willits, an American League rookie-of-the-year candidate with the Angels in 2007, was designated for assignment.
Willits, 30, was slowed by leg injuries this season, and after being demoted to Salt Lake on June 4, he hit .260 with a .385 on-base percentage in 65 games.
The Angels will have 10 days to trade or release Willits. If he clears waivers, Willits could finish the season with Salt Lake.