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Colon has first session off mound

Times Staff Writer

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It was a 35-pitch bullpen workout, all fastballs, seemingly routine stuff, but to Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher, it was much more.

Bartolo Colon threw off a mound Tuesday for the first time since July 26, when his 2006 season ended because of a rotator-cuff tear, and while the right-hander wasn’t near peak form, he looked comfortable and strong, his delivery effortless.

“It gave me goose bumps to watch him throw,” Butcher said. “There was no laboring ... he was in control, the ball came out of his hand extremely well. He looks great. It’s very encouraging.”

While Colon took a big step in Tempe Diablo Stadium on Tuesday morning, the left-hander who will replace him in the rotation to start the season, Joe Saunders, gave up two runs and five hits in three innings of the Angels’ 8-4 exhibition loss to San Francisco in Scottsdale Stadium.

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Reggie Willits, continuing his strong bid for a reserve outfield spot, had a double and a single, giving him four hits in seven at-bats, and made an outstanding running catch of Rich Aurilia’s drive to deep center in the fifth.

The Angels thought Colon would return in late May, but he reached the mound about two weeks ahead of schedule. Barring setbacks, the 2005 American League Cy Young Award winner could return by late April.

Colon will increase his pitch count and intensity level in three or four more bullpen sessions before moving on to batting practice and simulated games. The hope is for him to pitch in a Cactus League game by the end of March.

“He’s making huge strides,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “We want to keep him on this path.”

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Injury report

Jered Weaver (biceps tendinitis) long-tossed at 160 feet Monday and was on track to throw off a mound Friday for the first time this spring, but the right-hander suffered a minor setback when he missed Tuesday’s workout because of flu-like symptoms. It appears Weaver will miss at least one start to begin the season.... Reliever Justin Speier, slowed by soreness in his left leg, threw a 20-pitch simulated game Sunday and will make his first exhibition appearance today against San Diego.... Set-up man Scot Shields, slowed by shoulder soreness and shin splints, will throw a simulated game today and will make his Cactus League debut Friday.

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com


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