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MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

Dodgers' Shawn Tolleson has overcome injury to reach majors

The pitcher, who played travel ball with future Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw and Angel-to-be Jordan Walden as a youth, had Tommy John surgery in high school. But he's been rising through the ranks.

June 13, 2012|By Andrew Owens
  • Reliever Shawn Tolleson is looking to make an impact with the Dodgers after making a speedy ascension through the minor leagues.
Reliever Shawn Tolleson is looking to make an impact with the Dodgers after… (Patrick T. Fallon / Los Angeles…)

Reaching the major leagues is no walk in the park for even the most gifted of athletes, but for Dodgers pitcher Shawn Tolleson, the road was especially rocky.

Growing up in Dallas, Tolleson played travel baseball with current Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Angels reliever Jordan Walden.

Among a trio of future major leaguers, it was Tolleson — not Kershaw, a 2011 Cy Young award winner — who was regarded as having the brightest future.

"Tolleson was actually one of the best pitchers I've ever seen coming up," Walden said. "He was an incredible pitcher."

The right-hander, however, suffered an elbow injury and underwent Tommy John surgery in high school, dealing his career a significant blow.

"It was tough. It took me a couple years before I got back and was pitching like before," Tolleson said.

While Kershaw, his best friend, went on to sign with the Dodgers for $2.3 million out of high school, Tolleson labored through a college baseball career at Baylor. When he was drafted in the 30th round in 2010, he signed on for $20,000.

Tolleson made up for lost time by ascending through the Dodgers' ranks, passing through four levels in the minor leagues in a little more than a calendar year before finally getting the call to the majors June 4.

"It was kind of a long road to get here, but I never lost sight of where I was going," said Tolleson, the Dodgers' 2011 minor league pitcher of the year.

Tolleson made a strong impression on the Dodgers brass by posting a 1.35 earned-run average while striking out 178 and walking only 28 in 120 minor league innings.

"He's had a tougher road than most getting up here," Kershaw said. "The type of person he is, he's a competitor and he just loves baseball. He's a lot of fun to be around."

Tolleson walked both batters he faced in his major league debut and allowed a run in one inning Sunday, though bouncing back should be second nature for a player who has overcome so much.

"I just have to go out there and show them what I can do and get three outs or however many outs they ask me to get," Tolleson said. "That's my job, to go out there and not worry about what's happened in the past."

Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said Tolleson simply needs to trust his repertoire and attack the strike zone to be successful.

"It's part of their growing process," he said. "Every time out isn't going to be perfect, so you have to keep battling. He made a nice adjustment the other day. He gave up a couple hits and came back and had a couple strikeouts."

It doesn't hurt to have a member of your wedding party nearby for advice, either.

"It's nice to have Kershaw as someone I'm real comfortable with," Tolleson said. "He showed me the ropes and the ins and outs of the big leagues, so that's been good."

As Tolleson has learned along the way, sometimes it's the journey that can make the destination that much more satisfying.

"It feels great right now," he said. "This is definitely the place to play, so I'm going to go out there and perform the best that I can."

andrew.owens@latimes.com

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