Angels’ Robert Coello keeps hitters guessing with hybrid pitch

Robert Coello's hybrid pitch has been an effect weapon for the Angels right-hander this season who has provided the team with 7 1/3 innings of work with 12 strikeouts and no earned runs.
(Orlin Wagner / Associated Press)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s a forkball. No, it’s a knuckleball. Like the old Certs breath mint commercial, Angels reliever Robert Coello’s signature delivery is two, two, two pitches in one, and the right-hander has used it to carve a bullpen role that seems to grow more prominent with each outing.

Last Saturday, Coello replaced starter Joe Blanton with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth inning. He struck out Alexei Ramirez and Alex Rios and retired the side in order in the sixth to earn the win in a 12-9 victory over the White Sox.

Thursday night, Coello replaced struggling closer Ernesto Frieri with two on and two out in the ninth. He got Alcides Escobar to fly to right on his hybrid pitch — call it a forkleball — to earn his first big league save in a 5-4 win over the Royals.


“I use a really deep split-fingered grip, I throw it like my fastball, and it comes out like a tumbling knuckleball,” Coello, 28, said. “It has really good life to it. But once it leaves my hand, it does what it wants.”

Coello, who signed a minor league deal in January and was called up from triple A on May 11, also throws a 94-mph fastball and curve. The hybrid is effective because it’s thrown with the arm speed of a fastball but looks nothing like one.

Coello discovered the pitch while fooling around with knuckleball grips as a high school catcher in Florida and has thrown it ever since the Angels converted him to a pitcher in rookie-league ball in 2007.

He was released after 2007 but continued to throw the pitch in independent-league ball and in the Red Sox, Cubs and Blue Jays organizations.

Now, he’s back with the Angels and has made a great second impression, entering Friday with a 1-0 record and 0.00 earned-run average in six games, striking out 12 and walking none in 71/3 innings.

“I’m attacking the zone,” Coello said. “I’m throwing with confidence and conviction.”

His hybrid pitch can put Angels catchers on the defensive, though.

“There’s no consistent action to it — it’s unpredictable,” Chris Iannetta said. “I try to stay relaxed and find a way to catch it.”

If it’s tough to catch, it’s got to be tough to hit.

“It’s interesting to see how hitters react,” Coello said. “They usually shake their heads and say, ‘What the heck was that?’ It surprises them.”

Short hops

Billy Buckner, who hasn’t pitched since he threw eight innings for triple-A Salt Lake on May 11, will start Saturday’s game against the Royals. … Jered Weaver, on the disabled list because of a broken left (non-pitching) elbow, threw a light 29-pitch bullpen session Friday and is scheduled for a regular bullpen session Sunday. He will probably start Wednesday night against the Dodgers. … Tommy Hanson, on the restricted list, will throw a five-inning, 75-pitch simulated game in Arizona on Saturday. He could be activated for Thursday night’s game.