READING - The Phillies' most exciting pitching prospect since Cole Hamels has moved one step closer to the major leagues.

Kyle Drabek, the team's top pick in the 2006 draft, was promoted to double-A Reading yesterday. He will make his first start for the Reading Phillies on Thursday night against Akron at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Drabek wasted no time joining his new club. He arrived about halfway through batting practice before last night's game.

"I'm so happy to be here," the 21-year-old righthander said with a smile. "This is my first time out of Florida in a long time."

Months ago, Phillies officials had targeted June 1 as the date by which they had hoped to see Drabek arrive in double A. Brett Myers' hip injury last week triggered off a chain of transactions in the system that led to Drabek's promotion. Antonio Bastardo was promoted from triple A to the majors to take Myers' spot, and Gustavo Chacin was sent from double A to triple A.

That left an opening for Drabek.

"He's earned it," Phils assistant general manager Chuck LaMar said of Drabek's promotion. "He's done an outstanding job. He's ready for this challenge."

Drabek was 4-1 with a 2.48 ERA in 10 games, nine starts, for single-A Clearwater. He allowed 49 hits and struck out 74 in 612/3 innings. In his final start Friday night, he pitched a five-hit shutout against Charlotte.

The shutout came less than two years after Drabek's career was temporarily derailed by reconstructive elbow surgery in July 2007. He spent most of the next 22 months rehabilitating his elbow and pitching for Phils' minor-league clubs in Florida.

"Pitching a complete game was great because it made me feel like I was 100 percent back," Drabek said. "It took a lot of hard work to get here."

Team officials are pleased with the maturity that the once-headstrong Drabek has gained over the last two years.

"I've grown up a lot," he said. "Injury rehab will do that."

Upon getting news of his promotion, Drabek called his father, Doug, back home in Houston with the news. Doug Drabek won 155 games and was the 1990 National League Cy Young Award in a 13-year major-league career.

"He told me everything up here, from the hitters to the pitchers, is a little bit better," Drabek said. "He told me to go pitch like I know how."

During his rehab time last summer, Drabek modified his delivery. His once dramatic hip turn is gone. His delivery is more compact. He still has a power fastball that sits around 93 m.p.h. and a hard-breaking curveball. He added a change-up last summer.

Drabek has quietly been mentioned in baseball circles as someone who might help the big-league team, possibly out of the bullpen, late in the season. He has the stuff and mental toughness to warrant consideration - if he handles his double-A assignment well.

"I can't think about that right now," Drabek said of the major leagues. "I need to make sure I come here and pitch like I can."

Contact staff writer Jim Salisbury at 215-854-4983 or jsalisbury@phillynews.com.