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For Nick Tropeano, the Angels' spring training opener definitely counts

It will happen with nearly a week left in February.

In a game that probably will soon be forgotten.

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Against an opponent still warming its hamstrings.

Just don't try to convince Nick Tropeano that the Angels' Cactus League opener Friday doesn't count.

"I'm been working for this day ever since the injury," the Angels right-hander said. "I've been looking forward to it. I've been wanting it. There's definitely going to be some nerves."

Tropeano is returning from elbow ligament replacement surgery. His last big-league game was July 18, 2016.

He worked up to six innings and 100 pitches in Arizona last fall, facing minor leaguers toiling in an instructional league.

On Friday, though, in Mesa, he will oppose members of the Oakland Athletics. Or at least players competing to become members of the Oakland A's.

With spring training games starting earlier this year, several teams — including the Angels — have indicated they will hold back their regulars for an extra few days.

"I'm just looking to come out of this healthy, prove I'm healthy," Tropeano said. "Just play baseball. I miss playing. Eighteen months is hard to be out of the game."

Even with the Angels preparing to start the season with a six-man rotation — as opposed to the traditional five — the competition figures to be spirited.

As many as eight candidates are lined up to fight for the available spots, with Tropeano one of the pitchers pegged for the second half of that rotation.

"It's an important first step," manager Mike Scioscia said. "I think he'll obviously have some butterflies. He's done all the paces here in rehab and working out. He's ready for it, and we'll be excited to get him out there."

Tropeano said that his velocity in recent bullpen sessions has reached 91, 92 mph, while maxing out at closer to 95. So, he appears to be as sound as he has been since making 13 starts for the Angels in 2016. In parts of three major league seasons, Tropeano is 7-7 with a 3.81 ERA in 25 games, 24 of them starts.

"I think Trop has kind of flown a little under the radar in a lot of circles," Scioscia said. "We know what he can do and we're excited to have him back healthy."

Bridwell is ready too

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Also pitching Friday will be Parker Bridwell, one of the few Angels starters who hasn't been hurt lately.

Still, Bridwell said he's eager to combat the A's too.

"I didn't sleep last night," he admitted. "I don't want to face our guys anymore."

In his first season with the Angels, Bridwell was 10-3 with a 3.64 ERA in 21 games and 20 starts in 2017.

His ERA was below 3.00 into late August, the right-hander one of the few steady pieces in a rotation scrambled by injury.

In Bridwell's 20 starts, the Angels were 17-3, the .850 winning percentage virtually matching what the Dodgers did in Clayton Kershaw's 27 starts.

"I approach it like I've been DFA'd [designated for assignment] by another team and I have to earn a job," Bridwell said. "That's the way I like to go about it. Even if there's only five starting pitchers in the entire camp, I'm going to make it seem like there's 25."

A native of Hereford, a small town in west Texas, Bridwell returned home in the offseason and, for the third winter in a row, helped instruct kids at Colt 45 Baseball, an academy run by a friend.

Hereford has roughly 15,000 residents, many of them quite familiar with Bridwell and what he accomplished last season. But he said he was not treated any differently.

"I'm from a small place," he explained. "They're really good about being pretty normal."

Angels to honor victims and classmates

The Angels will send a giant banner signed with well wishes from their players to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla.

"Eagles, we are with you!" read the banner, the accompanying inscriptions including Shohei Ohtani's encouragement to "Stay Strong," his message written in English.

Backup catcher Rene Rivera, who lives in the Parkland area in the offseason, helped coordinate the gesture.

All major league teams are scheduled to wear special caps Friday supporting the school where a mass shooting last week killed 17.

Short hops

Chris Young, expected to open the season as the Angels' fourth outfielder, is sidelined because of a strained right calf. Wearing a walking boot Thursday, he said he'll be sidelined another 10 days or so… Former Angels pitcher Jim Abbott arrived in camp as a guest instructor.

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