The games are going, but at this early stage in this spring, much of the Angels’ attention from inside and outside the organization is focused away from them, on their starting pitchers who are still working their way to participating in games.
On Sunday, two of the team’s young starters pitched to hitters at the club’s facility while most other members bused to Hohokam Stadium for the second Cactus League game of 2017.
Garrett Richards, 28, had not faced an opponent since Oct. 13, when he threw 55 pitches in his final test to prove his stem cells had regenerated his torn ulnar collateral ligament. He took the next two months off.
Tyler Skaggs, 25, had gone longer. He last pitched in last season’s penultimate game, Oct. 1, after he talked his way into one appearance. September forearm tightness, another complication from his Tommy John surgery recovery, had forced him to miss several starts.
There was no apparent timidity from either pitcher. In warmups, reliever Andrew Bailey, Richards’ catch partner, asked the right-hander how many feet apart he’d like to reach.
“120?” Richards said. “150? Let’s stretch it out. I don’t care.”
As Richards walked to the mound, the club’s new minor league hitting coordinator Jeremy Reed talked to Jefry Marte, the first man Richards would face, and reported back that Marte would be swinging at Richards’ offerings. Hitters have the option to merely watch pitches, it being February and all.
The first pitch, a fastball, flew inside and up. Marte jumped out of the way.
“No swinging,” he then said. “No swinging.”
Marte swung at the next two pitches, as Richards incorporated breaking balls in with fastballs.
Twenty minutes later, Skaggs took the opposite field against catcher Jose Briceno, who had caught Richards. Grunting with every throw, Skaggs said he felt better than he had on any day since his July 31, 2014, elbow injury.
“I’m really happy about it,” he said. “Nothing physically is going to prevent me from taking the ball every fifth day. Mentally, I need to tell myself every time I pitch that today is my day and to go out there and do my thing. It’s all mental. There’s more conviction behind every throw.”
“His upside, with his stuff, is to be a No. 1 starter,” Scioscia said Sunday. “He’s got great stuff. As he harnesses it and understands putting pitches together better, and hopefully stays healthy, he’s going to pitch to that potential.
“I think he knows, at some point, all that potential and upside needs to show up. He’s working hard to make that happen this year.”
Veteran right-hander Bud Norris, to be 32 on Thursday, signed a minor league contract with the Angels last month after spending the off-season altering his delivery.
He drew Sunday’s start against Oakland and could not finish two innings with his allotted 40 pitches. Norris said he pitched tentatively in his first inning because of the new windup.
Norris has made 80% of career appearances as a starter, but the Angels are viewing him as both a potential starter and reliever this spring. He said he would do either.
“I see that the swingman is such an important role for a lot of clubs,” Norris said, then mentioned the Angels’ many pitching injuries last year. “I know I can give innings in any role.”
Asked about specifics of the delivery change, Norris said it involves an anchored right foot throughout. In the past, he said, he rocked his foot at first. He felt the adjustment would help him frame his body more consistently toward home plate.
“You gotta watch some video,” Norris said. “I’ve pitched a long time.”
Scioscia said he plans to play outfielders Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun and infielders Danny Espinosa and Yunel Escobar, among other expected regulars, for the first time this spring on Monday. Albert Pujols is not yet fit to play.… A strained calf has sidelined outfielder Shane Robinson in recent days, but he’s expected to return to action Monday.