Arm strain sidelines Lackey until May

Times Staff Writer

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Kelvim Escobar will have some unwanted company on the disabled list to start the season.

The Angels’ rotation and, possibly, the team’s division title hopes, were dealt a significant blow Saturday when ace John Lackey was diagnosed with a strained right triceps, an injury that will sideline the right-hander until at least mid-May.

With Escobar also out until May because of a sore shoulder, the Angels will go five to six weeks without their top two pitchers, a pair that combined for 37 wins last season and would make 14 to 16 starts between them in a six-week span.

“It’s going to be a huge blow,” fellow starter Joe Saunders said. “It’s definitely not good. John is our horse, the leader of the pitching staff and a leader of the team. Our Nos. 1 and 2 starters are not doing so hot right now. We’re going to have to step up our game.”


Lackey, who hasn’t missed a start in his six-year big league career but has been limited by a sore elbow to one exhibition start this spring, felt discomfort after Wednesday’s bullpen workout and said his elbow “locked up pretty good” Friday.

An MRI test revealed the strain, which is just above the elbow, on the outside of Lackey’s arm. His previous pain was below the elbow, on the inside of his forearm. Lackey, who was 19-9 with an American League-leading 3.01 earned run average last season, will be held out of baseball-related activities for three to four weeks and won’t throw until mid-April.

He’ll need at least four or five minor league starts to build up arm strength, so in a best-case scenario, Lackey won’t be ready until mid-May. Escobar, who was 18-7 with a 3.40 ERA in 2007, hopes to return by early May.

“It definitely hurts the team,” Escobar said. “Lackey won 19 games last year, I won 18 . . . but at the same time, there are a lot of capable guys here. Hopefully, it won’t hurt too much.”


As Escobar spoke to reporters, pitcher Ervin Santana walked by and said, “We’ve got your back. We’ve got your back.”

Though several free-agent starters, such as Jeff Weaver, Freddy Garcia and Horacio Ramirez, are available, and the Angels have excess outfielders to make a trade, General Manager Tony Reagins said the Angels will first look in-house to fill Lackey’s spot.

Long reliever Dustin Moseley, who made eight starts in 2007, is the leading candidate, and prospects Nick Adenhart, who gave up three runs and four hits in four innings of Saturday’s 5-4, 10-inning exhibition win over Arizona, and Nick Green will have a shot.

“We have candidates who can step in,” Reagins said. “In John’s and Escobar’s case, we don’t think the timetable for them to be out is going to be that long, so if we can fill in the gaps for the first month and a half, hopefully we can get those guys back.”


Jered Weaver is expected to start the March 31 season opener at Minnesota, and he’ll be followed in the rotation by Jon Garland, Saunders, Santana and, probably, Moseley.

Though Seattle will open with a superior rotation of Erik Bedard, Felix Hernandez, Carlos Silva, Jarrod Washburn and Miguel Batista, Manager Mike Scioscia doesn’t think the loss of Lackey and Escobar will put a huge dent in the Angels’ division hopes.

“Those two guys are important to us, but even without them, we have a rotation that can give us a chance to win on a nightly basis and a bullpen that can hold leads,” Scioscia said.

“It’s obviously big when you lose a guy who brings as much as John, not only when he pitches but on the periphery, in setting a tone. Hopefully he’ll get back early enough to have an impact on our pitching staff.”


Lackey is entering uncharted territory. The 29-year-old has never been on the disabled list and will have to rely on the team’s medical staff to pace his rehabilitation.

“I’m going to do everything I can to get back as soon as I can, but I’ve got to be a little cautious, and they’re probably going to be pulling me back, going a little slower than I want to go,” Lackey said. “We’ll see. I’m going to trust them. They’ve been here before, and I haven’t.”