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Chatwood uses his fast pass

The 21-year-old made a quick rise to Angels' rotation and has been compared to Roy Oswalt.

July 01, 2011|Mike DiGiovanna

Steve Hernandez was watching the April 9 game between triple-A Salt Lake and Reno on the Internet when Tyler Chatwood, the Angels' top pitching prospect, was replaced after one scoreless inning.

Hernandez, who was Chatwood's coach at Redlands East Valley High, felt a knot in his stomach. Five years ago, Chatwood had elbow surgery that sidelined him for his sophomore season.

"My first thought," Hernandez said, "was, 'Oh my God, what happened?' "

A few hours later, Hernandez received a text message from Chatwood. The right-hander was fine. He was pulled early because he was being called up by the Angels to start against the Cleveland Indians two nights later.

"If you knew me, you'd know I'm never at a loss for words," Hernandez said. "I was at a loss for words.

"I showed the text to my wife, and she said, 'Do you think he's kidding?' I've known Tyler since the seventh grade, and I don't think he's that kind of guy."

Indeed, on April 11, Hernandez was in Angel Stadium watching Chatwood, who had all of 62/3 innings of triple-A experience, and who was playing high school ball three years ago, make his major league debut.

It was a rocky start for Chatwood, who gave up a solo home run to Asdrubal Cabrera and a three-run shot to Matt LaPorta in five innings of a 4-0 loss.

But over the next 21/2 months, Chatwood firmly established himself in the rotation, and he takes a 5-4 record, 3.64 earned-run average and an explosive fastball that has drawn comparisons to Roy Oswalt's into a start Friday night against the Dodgers.

"In one sense, it doesn't shock me because I always thought he'd be a big league player -- he had a special arm and all the makeup," said Hernandez, now a scout for the Angels. "But when you look at timetables and how long it usually takes players to develop, it is shocking."

Then again, Chatwood has always been ahead of the curve. He was a varsity starter at third base as a freshman at East Valley and was 16 when he had Tommy John surgery to reconstruct his elbow, a procedure many associate with professional pitchers.

Chatwood reached double A at 20 and a year later he seems unfazed by the pressure of the big leagues, where he has impressed coaches and teammates with maturity, aptitude, humility and work ethic.

"Pitching in the big leagues at 21? I couldn't fathom that," Angels ace Jered Weaver said. "I had a hard time fathoming it at 23. No matter what age you are, the first time you come to the big leagues you're going to be overwhelmed.

"But he looks so comfortable out there, and you can tell by how he controls the speed of the game. He doesn't let the game take over. He has an electric arm. He has a lot of confidence. He knows what he wants to do. And he pitches to his strengths."

Chatwood's primary pitch is a fastball that, according to fangraphs.com, he throws 75.5% of the time, the fourth-highest fastball percentage in baseball behind the New York Yankees' Bartolo Colon, Cleveland's Justin Masterson and Pittsburgh's Charlie Morten.

He has a good curveball that he has thrown 17% of the time and a still-developing changeup he has thrown 7.5% of the time.

"I've been doing his charts a lot, and it's amazing," Weaver said. "He'll throw like 90 fastballs and 12 curves."

He is not a two-pitch pitcher. Chatwood, whose emergence has eased the sting of Scott Kazmir's collapse, throws a four-seam fastball that hits 96 mph and a 91-mph, two-seam, tailing fastball, giving his signature pitch two looks.

"Right now, the movement on his fastball is really good, he has a good curve, and that's a great combination," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He has the makings of a good changeup; it just isn't as prominent as it will be."

Though Chatwood is listed in the media guide as 6 feet, 185 pounds, he is actually 5-103/4, which makes his radar-gun readings even more eye-popping and sparks the Oswalt comparisons.

"It's a compliment -- he's one of the best pitchers in the game," Chatwood said of the Phillies' smallish but hard-throwing right-hander. "But I'm nowhere near the pitcher he is."

If he irons out his control problems -- Chatwood has 48 strikeouts and 45 walks in 89 innings -- and continues to make the adjustments like he has in the past 21/2 months, he could be.

After giving up five runs and five hits in 32/3 innings of a 9-0 loss to Kansas City on June 12, Chatwood smoothed his delivery, dramatically reducing his stride.

Pitching coach Mike Butcher also helped Chatwood change the grip on his curveball and his line of vision toward the plate on his breaking ball and changeup.

In his next start, Chatwood pitched seven scoreless innings in a 7-3 win over the New York Mets at Citi Field on June 19. Sunday at Dodger Stadium, he gave up one run and four hits in seven innings of a 6-1 victory.

"We forget how young he is when he's out there, because he's competing at the highest level, going up against the best," Angels right-hander Dan Haren said. "He went right through the Dodgers lineup, no problem. I've been impressed with him since day one. There's a lot to like about him."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

The tale of Tyler

Tyler Chatwood's numbers since being called up to Angels on April 11.

*--* GS W-L IP H HR BB SO WHIP ERA. 15 5-4 89.0 86 6 45 48 1.47 3.64 *--*

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