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Angels get good news on pitcher Andrew Heaney's elbow injury

Angels get good news on pitcher Andrew Heaney's elbow injury
Angels starter Andrew Heaney delivers a pitch during a game against the Houston Astros in May. (Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

The Angels found out Monday that left-hander Andrew Heaney’s latest elbow injury may not need more than two weeks to heal.

A CT scan revealed that Heaney’s elbow had undergone normal “chronic changes,” according to general manager Billy Eppler. There was no concern about structural damage to his ulnar collateral ligament, which he had surgically repaired nearly three years ago.

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Heaney received a cortisone injection to help alleviate the inflammation in his elbow. He is expected to resume his throwing program in seven to 10 days.

“If you do something over and over again, your body, if you do something physical, will have changes that happen to them,” Eppler said. “These are chronic changes that happen with a throwing athlete.”

Heaney missed time on the mound this spring twice because of elbow inflammation. He was scratched from a start March 3 but allowed to continue throwing when an MRI exam, soon after he made only his second Cactus League start, revealed no damage to his elbow. About 10 days later, , Heaney was stopped from throwing altogether. His elbow had flared up, and the discomfort was enough to raise a red flag.

Heaney threw 20 pitches off the mound last week at Angel Stadium, his first bullpen session since the mid-March setback. He reported discomfort in his elbow afterward, prompting the Angels to stop him from throwing until he could be examined this week.

The injury kept Heaney off the Angels’ opening day roster for a second consecutive season.

Heaney, who had Tommy John surgery in July 2016, started last year on the injured list with a similar injury. He returned by mid-April to set career highs and lead the staff with 30 starts, 180 innings and 180 strikeouts.

That soon of a return won’t be possible this time. Heaney reached only 40 pitches during his last start of the spring, so he’ll need a few weeks to increase his pitch count.

He won’t have to start from scratch, though. Heaney was far enough along in his preparation for the season that he will not go through the usual six-week throwing program.

“We definitely want to get Andrew back into the fold as soon as it's reasonable to do so,” Eppler said.

Heaney’s presence in the rotation for most of last year was an aberration for a team that saw six other starters — Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs, JC Ramirez, Nick Tropeano and Alex Meyer — spend significant time on the injured list. Another one, two-way player Shohei Ohtani, was limited to 10 starts because of an elbow ligament tear that was first treated with stem-cell and platelet-rich plasma injections and later reconstructed in surgery.

Without Ohtani in the rotation this year, the Angels were counting on Heaney and Skaggs, a pair of left-handers who have been plagued by injuries throughout their careers, to lead the group. They were forced to deviate from the plan two days before the season, and acquired right-hander Chris Stratton, who started Monday’s game at T-Mobile Park, to make up for Heaney’s absence.

The absence may not be prolonged. If he avoids another setback, Heaney could be back on a major league mound by the end of April.

For now, this is the best news the Angels could have received.

"Obviously, the news that you want to hear is that your pitcher is healthy and is going to begin a throwing progression,” Eppler said. “He's going to begin a throwing progression in about seven days, so that's better than a different outcome.”

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Short hops

Third baseman Zack Cozart, who had shoulder surgery last season and missed most of spring training because of a left calf strain, was not in Monday night’s lineup. It was a scheduled day off. He pinch-hit in the ninth and popped out. ... Top pitching prospect Griffin Canning is operating under an innings limit and will be brought along slowly at triple-A Salt Lake. By doing that, Canning would not be restricted at the major league level if he were to receive a promotion, Eppler said. ... The Angels are not planning to have utility player David Fletcher start in left field while outfielder Justin Upton is on the injured list. Manager Brad Ausmus said it’s more likely Fletcher will receive an assignment like he did in Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Oakland , in which he was a defensive replacement in the outfield.

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