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Depth in the Angels' starting rotation could be impressive — if injuries can be avoided

Depth in the Angels' starting rotation could be impressive — if injuries can be avoided
Angels pitchers leave the field together after a workout session during the first day of spring training camp. Left to right are Garret Richards (43), JC Ramirez, Tyler Skaggs (45), Andrew Heaney and Matt Shoemaker (52). (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The movement is so obvious and significant that it even has a name.

Six starting pitchers for the Angels have been sidelined for notable chunks of time because of injury the last two seasons.

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At the moment, only seven games into spring training, they are all sound, all pitching and all, according to one, on a "redemption tour."

That was Andrew Heaney's creation, the left-hander only one of the healing half-dozen.

Because of elbow ligament replacement surgery, Heaney has started only six games since 2015, a season in which — it can be difficult to remember now — he was 6-4 with a 3.49 earned-run average in 18 starts.

"We've kind of been a little bit of the weak spot, kind of the disappointment in some ways," Heaney said of the starters. "It's definitely a situation where we're all out to prove something."

The injury list is lengthy, the injuries themselves varied: Besides Heaney, there's Garrett Richards (elbow nerve), Matt Shoemaker (forearm nerve), Nick Tropeano (elbow ligament), Tyler Skaggs (oblique) and JC Ramirez (elbow ligament).

Ramirez was the last of the group to make his first start of the spring, going two innings Thursday against the San Francisco Giants.

"I feel like I'm back," Ramirez said after giving up one hit and striking out one. "I feel like I'm healthy."

In his second appearance, Tropeano entered in the fourth inning and pitched two scoreless innings.

Add Shohei Ohtani and Parker Bridwell and the Angels have eight candidates with different levels of experience to fill out their rotation.

If they all stay injury-free, that's impressive depth, and the Angels are planning on using a sixth starter — to mimic Ohtani's schedule in Japan — in an era when it can be difficult for teams to find five.

"It's not like we're one unit on the mission to prove people wrong or prove ourselves worthy," Heaney said. "But I think we, as a group, understand the time is now to put it together."

No one can be sure what a sound and productive rotation would look like for the Angels, since this group never has been able to accomplish that goal.

Last season, Ricky Nolasco was the only Angel who made as many as 25 starts, and he finished with 15 losses and is out of baseball for now.

"We have a group that feeds positively off everybody else's success," Shoemaker said. "We all want to do great and be great. If we have the chance to do that, It's going to be a lot of fun."

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Plan for Ohtani

Ohtani remains on schedule to start a "B" game Friday morning in Maryvale against the Milwaukee Brewers. He'll pitch the equivalent of three innings and make about 50 pitches.

Though it won't happen during spring training, manager Mike Scioscia left open the possibility that Ohtani could bat in regular-season games the day before he pitches.

"When the season opens up, we're going to look very closely at it," Scioscia said. "We're going to be flexible with everything we do."

Backup Rene Rivera is scheduled to catch Ohtani against the Brewers. Martin Maldonado caught his first start.

Irregular lineup

One game after playing his regulars, Scioscia went back to starting a lineup that in almost no way resembled what the Angels should look like on opening day.

Maldonado was the lone projected starter to play. He was the designated hitter.

On Wednesday, against the Cleveland Indains, the Angels gave their fans a brief glimpse of their everyday lineup, but most of the starters were out by the midway point of the game.

"It looked good," said Justin Upton, who in his first at-bat drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. "I liked what I saw."

Ian Kinsler batted leadoff, walking twice, stealing a base, forcing an errant throw and scoring two runs.

"That's what he does," said Upton, who played with Kinsler in Detroit. "He makes smart baseball plays."

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