Colon Happy To Be A Big Leaguer

Roman Colon was enjoying his lunch in an Indianapolis restaurant. He was eating with a couple of teammates, Jose Capellan and Wilson Betemit, when his cell phone rang.

"Hey Colon, come down to the hotel," demanded his teammate and fellow reliever Matt Whiteside.

"No I'm not coming back to the hotel," Colon insisted.

"You better get your butt over here," Whiteside continued. "You're in the major leagues right now."

"Get outta here," Colon said in shock.

"Yea we got a party for you with a bottle of Champagne and everything," Whiteside said, himself a veteran of 284 major league games.

So Colon sprung back to the hotel and enjoyed his final minutes as a minor leaguer, but he still wondered if it was real.

"I didn't believe it in the beginning but then Jay Williams (Richmond's trainer) called and then Pat Kelly (Richmond's manager) called," Colon says. "That's when I knew I was coming up for sure."

Colon had been on fire in Richmond and definitely deserved the promotion. He was 4-1 in AAA with a 3.65 ERA in 51 games. But since the All Star Break, he was 1-0 with a 1.88 ERA, 14 hits allowed in 24 innings, 1 walk, and 20 strikeouts. The stats came with newfound life on his fastball, which has been clocked at 97 miles an hour the last several weeks.

"It surprised me," Colon says. "On one of those days I was pitching one of the guys went ‘Man Colon did you see what you hit?' I said, ‘what was it 94?' He said, ‘No it was 97.' I said, ‘What?' I couldn't believe it. Then when I pitched it was like 93 up to 96 and 97."

"I think it happened the second month of the season when I just started letting it go and see how it went," Colon explains. "I was pretty bad in the beginning of the season. So I just wanted to do something else like working on my stuff and everything. I was throwing long toss a lot, and I think that's what happened."

Colon worked numerous bullpen sessions with Richmond pitching coach Guy Hansen, known as a master at "finishing off" young pitchers and preparing them for the last step into the big leagues.

"He got me to lean toward home plate better," Colon says. "I don't need to lean on the side. I've just got to keep everything together and keep straight on my follow through."

The trip through the minor leagues was a long one for Colon, who signed as a 16-year-old back in 1995. It took a slight detour in 2000 when he had the dreaded Tommy John surgery and missed the entire season.

"My arm is so much better now," Colon explains. "Every year it's gotten better and better. It was probably a blessing. You don't learn that. You are forced to become a better pitcher when you come back."

Colon came back in 2001 and had a decent year in Macon (7-7, 3.59 ERA in 21 starts) and then had similar numbers in Myrtle Beach in 2002 (9-8, 3.53 ERA in 26 starts). He started off the 2003 season in the Greenville rotation, but midway through the year Manager Brian Snitker told him he was being moved to the bullpen. Colon wasn't so sure at the time if it was a good move since he enjoyed starting.

"Yea but you don't realize at the time until you find out what is going on with you," Colon says. "Jose Martinez (Special Assistant to the GM/Player Development) and Dayton Moore (Director of Player Personnel) called me and said, ‘we think this is a better idea to move you down to the bullpen. We believe you're going to be in the major leagues sooner than if you were a starter.'"

Colon started working on becoming a reliever. The numbers proved he learned fast and well. Roman went 5-0 with 2 saves and a 2.78 ERA in 27 relief appearances for the AA team. His pitching coach in Greenville, Mike Alvarez, taught him how to throw a split-fingered fastball so he'd have another pitch out of the bullpen. But it wasn't until midway through this season when the split became a lethal weapon for him.

"That's my strikeout pitch now," Colon says. "Don't tell anybody. I'm still using a change and slider. I had a pretty good curve ball before my surgery but right after that the curve ball went away. I don't know why. But I found out I could throw a slider so my slider has been helping me out a lot too."

A few years ago, Roman Colon was behind numerous other prospects that were very highly rated. But he continued to get better, and just like his fellow teammates in Atlanta Nick Green and Charles Thomas he battled until he was ready for the major leagues.

"I had all those prospects in front of me like Adam Wainwright and Bubba Nelson (his teammates in Macon in 2001)," Colon says. "I knew it would be tough. I never gave up. I'm a hard worker. I just kept going. I've just had to put some numbers up and do my thing and I knew I'd be here one day."

That first day was last Saturday, when he debuted against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. He struck out two and had a 1-2-3 inning.

"That was exciting," Colon says. "That was awesome. You can't ask for anything better than that."

Well, maybe we can. He has followed up his debut with two more perfect outings, including finishing the game Wednesday night against the Rockies. Considering how important making a first impression on Bobby Cox is to these rookies, Roman Colon may be here for a long time.

Bill Shanks can be reached at thebravesshow@email.com

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