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Escobar Has Many Ways to Succeed

Times Staff Writer

Troy Percival couldn’t tell you how many pitches right-hander Kelvim Escobar throws.

“All I know,” the Angel closer said, “is if I had to catch him, I wouldn’t have enough fingers.”

For the record, Escobar throws a fastball, curve, slider, split-fingered fastball and changeup. But he throws two different fastballs, a two-seam pitch that sinks and a four-seam pitch that is straight and touches 97 mph on the radar gun.

So, Escobar actually has six pitches, which, unless you’re a six-fingered player such as Atlanta reliever Antonio Alfonseca, can make it challenging for a catcher calling pitches.

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“Josh [Paul] uses five fingers to call for the split, and Jose and Bengie [Molina] wiggle their fingers,” Escobar said of the three Angel catchers. “Not many pitchers can throw three off-speed pitches for strikes. I can throw four.”

Escobar has mastered his vast repertoire during a strong Angel debut season, taking a 7-8 record and 4.01 earned-run average into tonight’s start at Tampa Bay.

Though his record may not reflect it, Escobar has been the team’s most effective and consistent starter, giving the Angels a solid return on the three-year, $18.75-million investment they made in the former Toronto pitcher this winter.

The only thing separating the right-hander from a higher win total is a lack of run support. Of Escobar’s 23 games, 13 have been quality starts, in which he pitched six innings or more and gave up three earned runs or less. He has 128 strikeouts and 53 walks in 143 2/3 innings.

The Angels have scored 87 runs in Escobar’s 23 games, an average of 3.8. They’ve scored nine runs in Escobar’s eight losses, an average of 1.1.

“Had we gotten him some runs,” shortstop David Eckstein said, “he could easily have 14 or 15 wins by now.”

You’ll hear no complaints from Escobar.

“We’re human -- obviously you want to win -- but I’m the kind of guy who will be disappointed if I throw eight shutout innings and we lose and happy if I give up six runs in five innings and we win,” Escobar said.

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Escobar’s demeanor in the clubhouse has been as consistent as his performance on the mound.

“He stays positive every day -- you never see him get down about anything,” Percival said. “I saw the same thing one year when Chuck Finley didn’t get any support. He took the baseball, did his job and didn’t blink.”

While some pitchers fade in the summer heat, Escobar has gotten stronger -- the velocity of his fastball has increased from 94 mph at the beginning of the season to 97 mph, which he attributes to the rigorous lower-body strengthening program former Toronto teammate Roger Clemens helped him develop.

“The most important thing is command of the fastball, both sides of the plate and up and down,” said Escobar. “It’s still the best pitch in baseball.”

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