As the Angels pursue a 2017 postseason appearance most within the industry believe is out of their reach, there will be a subtext to their season. All the while, two injured starting pitchers, left-hander Andrew Heaney and right-hander Nick Tropeano, will be working their way back from elbow-ligament surgery with their eyes mostly set on 2018.
Heaney underwent his Tommy John surgery in July. He is already throwing and has told others of his desire to pitch this season. Tropeano, who had his ligament replacement in August, threw Sunday for the first time since surgery.
“Just to flick a ball like that,” Tropeano said, “I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited.”
The 26-year-old right-hander logged a 3.65 earned-run average in 106 innings for the Angels over the last two seasons. He was bothered by shoulder pain for most of last June. In his third start back, he exited after two innings with elbow soreness, and surgery was soon prescribed.
“I was preparing myself for this day, just to get this check mark, to be ready, to be prepared,” Tropeano said. “It’s good. It’s reassuring. It’s obviously a good feeling when you’re waiting that long. It’s just one of those big steps, one of many, to get back to where I want to be.”
The plan for Tropeano is to throw every other day for the next several weeks, gradually increasing the distance.
“He’s obviously just in the baby steps in his rehab,” Manager Mike Scioscia said.
Retired former Angels outfielder Torii Hunter visited camp Sunday, carrying his signature smile across the clubhouse and onto the field, where he held an impromptu talk with the club’s outfielders. He was present to watch his son, 21-year-old Torii Hunter Jr.
The Angels selected Hunter Jr. in the 23rd round of last June’s draft. He signed that month, then played football for Notre Dame in the fall and caught 38 passes for 521 yards. In December, he announced he would forgo his fifth year of football eligibility to pursue an Angels career as an outfielder.
He said a September concussion made him realize giving up football was the right choice.
“I’m not crazy enough to play this sport,” he said.
With his father in town this weekend, Hunter Jr. earned a surprise call-up from minor league camp for the afternoon.
“I’ve really never seen him play baseball,” Scioscia said. “But, like you would expect, this kid’s incredibly athletic. And he’s committed to playing baseball. So, we’re excited to have him.”
Hunter Jr. pinch-ran for Mike Trout in the sixth inning Sunday and played the rest of the game in center field, making one misplay on a ground-rule double. Hunter struck out in both of his plate appearances in the Angels’ 11-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox.
“Even the strikeout, even losing the ball in the sun, this stuff is only going to make him better,” his father said. “I did this and I was in the major leagues. Failure is what makes you better.”
The elder Hunter became a fan favorite over five seasons as an Angel. He retired after 2015 and now works in Minnesota’s Twins’ front office.
Scioscia said he believed it was his first time managing the son of a player he’d managed.
Hunter Jr. hardly played baseball for the Fighting Irish. In two collegiate seasons, he appeared in 23 games, mostly as a pinch-runner, and recorded two hits and two walks.
Also in Angels camp Sunday was right-hander Aaron Cox, the brother of Trout’s fiancée, Jessica. A 2015 19th-round draft pick, Cox closed for Class-A Burlington last season.
Cox, 22, pitched the ninth inning. He loaded the bases with one out and allowed a double to White Sox top prospect Yoan Moncada before exiting the game.
Third baseman Yunel Escobar remained out with a minor abdominal strain that sidelined him Saturday. Scioscia said he expects him back in the lineup Tuesday. The Angels are off Monday. … Right-hander Deolis Guerra and left-hander Jose Alvarez have returned to Angels camp from the World Baseball Classic, where they represented Venezuela. Both relievers will return to action Wednesday, Scioscia said. …Veteran right-hander Bud Norris, pitching on short rest after his two-inning relief appearance Thursday, threw another two innings, his fastball velocity again sitting around 93 mph. He did not allow a baserunner and struck out three. Norris has started 185 major league games but figures to make the Angels’ opening-day roster as a reliever.