Escobar has a new issue: a back strain

Times Staff Writer

His surgically repaired right elbow has felt great all spring, and the tendinitis in his left knee hasn’t bothered him of late, but a new issue popped onto pitcher Kelvim Escobar’s medical chart Saturday.

The Angels right-hander was pulled from an 11-1 exhibition loss to Colorado because of a strain in the lower left side of his back, an injury he sustained lunging for Kazuo Matsui’s third-inning grounder.

Escobar threw one warmup pitch and told Manager Mike Scioscia he could continue, but with Bartolo Colon and Jered Weaver opening the season on the disabled list and Scioscia not wanting to risk further injury, Escobar was removed for precautionary reasons.

“It scared me,” Escobar said. “When I felt it, I thought, ‘Wow, I pulled it.’ But everything is OK. They think it was just a back spasm.”


After stretching and receiving massage therapy, Escobar’s back was already feeling better. He expects to make his next scheduled start, against the Dodgers in the Freeway Series opener Thursday night, and to be ready for the second game of the regular season against Texas on April 3.

“Any time a pitcher is holding that area, you’re worried about a rib-cage injury, which can really set you back, but that doesn’t appear to be the case,” Scioscia said. “We’ll have time to get him where he needs to be.”

Silver lining

As disappointing as it was to discover he had fractures in two fingers instead of one, injuries that will sideline him for five to six weeks, Chone Figgins was relieved to get a more accurate diagnosis Friday.

“I thought I’d be back once the swelling went down, but the doctor said if I hit it again, it could do severe damage,” said Figgins, who was struck on his right hand by a ground ball Wednesday. “That could deepen the fractures, require pins to be inserted surgically, and I’d be out for months.”

Figgins originally was diagnosed with a fracture in the tip of his middle finger and thought he’d be out for a few days, but further tests and X-rays revealed a second fracture, in his right index finger. Figgins, the team’s speedy No. 9 batter, will miss the first month of the season. Maicer Izturis will take over at third, with Robb Quinlan backing him up.

“Losing Figgins is going to hurt because ... whoever replaces him can’t do some of the things he does as far as running the bases, stealing bases, going from first to third on balls you probably shouldn’t go on,” left fielder Garret Anderson said. “We’ll miss that. But I have confidence Izzy and Robb will do a great job.”

Figgins will be able to run and field ground balls -- with his right hand behind his back -- during his recovery to stay in shape. But coping emotionally could be tough, said Figgins, who has never been on the disabled list.


“Not playing is the killer part,” he said. “It will be hard to watch a baseball game.”

Rehab report

Colon looked so impressive during a 50-pitch batting-practice session Saturday that reliever Scot Shields, after watching the workout from behind the cage, declared, “He’s ready for opening day

That would be a stretch, but Colon took a significant step in his return from a rotator-cuff tear, showing excellent velocity and command of his fastball and mixing in sliders and changeups. He could pitch in a minor league game later this week.


Fallback position

In addition to starting at six different infield and outfield positions the last two years, Figgins was the team’s emergency catcher.

With Figgins out, who will assume that role? “Quinlan,” Scioscia said. “But he doesn’t know it.”

Said Quinlan: “I caught in high school, I can do it. ... Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”