'Changed' Williams returns to bigs with Angels

'Changed' Williams returns to bigs with Angels

'Changed' Williams returns to bigs with Angels
ANAHEIM -- When Jerome Williams first was informed that the Angels had called him up from Triple-A Salt Lake, the 29-year-old journeyman pitcher couldn't believe the news.

"I told [Salt Lake manager Keith Johnson] to stop messing with me, don't play with me," Williams said Wednesday in front of his new locker inside the Angels' clubhouse. "I didn't believe it. But I had so many things going through my mind at that time. Going from independent ball, overseas, coming back. All that stuff was going through my mind. I just was speechless."

The path toward that 11:30 p.m. phone call was a long one for Williams. One that included multiple stints in the Independent League and a season spent playing abroad in Taiwan. At times Williams wondered if he'd ever make it back to the Majors. When he began the 2011 season back with the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League he briefly thought about calling it quits.

But his wife told him not to give up, and now he finds himself back with a Major League club for the first time since 2007, when Williams pitched for the Washington Nationals. Williams replaces right-hander Trevor Bell, who was sent back to Salt Lake, on the Angels' 25-man roster, and outfielder Reggie Willits was designated for assignment to make room for Williams on the 40-man roster.

Williams posted a 7-2 record with a 3.91 ERA in 11 games (10 starts) with Salt Lake.

The former first-round pick of the San Francisco Giants told reporters he's willing to do anything and everything the Angels ask. For now, manager Mike Scioscia plans to use Williams out of the bullpen.

"But he also has the dimension of giving us some rotation depth if we would need it," Scioscia said. "He's an interesting guy. He was a high pick and he has his stuff back now. He came all the way up from about as low as you can get in the professional career to rebound and get an opportunity. So we're excited to see how his stuff plays."

The Angels didn't wait long to test Williams, who entered the ninth inning against the Rangers with one out in Wednesday's 4-3 loss. He allowed a double to Michael Young and a single to Nelson Cruz before getting Mike Napoli to ground into an inning-ending double play.

Williams burst onto the scene in 2003 with the Giants, starting 21 games as a rookie and going 7-5 with a 3.30 ERA. But after his first season, Williams battled weight issues for the rest of his first stint in the Majors.

Williams said he weighed 200 pounds at the end of 2003 but ballooned to 270 at the start of the next season. That kind of weight gain, Williams said, created the label that he was a lazy player, and after he developed shoulder problems in 2007 with the Nationals no teams offered him a contract the following season.

"I think after that year no one wanted to sign me because I was hurt," Williams said. "So I went to independent ball and got my weight down."

Williams dropped down to 230 and gradually began to build up his velocity, which had dipped to 84 mph. Now, Williams said he routinely hits between 91-92 on the gun, crediting his newfound shoulder strength to the 200-pitch bullpen sessions he gritted through while playing in Taiwan last year.

"I'm changed," Williams said. "I was a young kid. I was relying on my talent at that time. I'm older, even though I'm only 29, I'm older I know more about baseball and the game, period, and life in general."