The Angels' opposition Friday night represented the manifestation of their hopes for their franchise's future.
In the form of Yu Darvish, the Texas Rangers' dominant, deceptive right-hander, the Angels could envision their path to success. Darvish underwent Tommy John surgery 18 months ago to repair the torn ulnar collateral ligament within his problematic elbow. He returned with a tick more velocity and the rest of his stuff intact, and he turned 30 last month.
It is possible, if not probable, that four of the five men who will compose the Angels' 2018 starting rotation will have had Tommy John surgery within a two-year span. If they can follow Darvish's direction, the Angels could be in position to contend, or at least win far more games than the 72 they are on pace to now.
That is not to suggest Darvish's road to this point was a West Texas interstate, free of impediments. The day he pitched in a game for the first time, in double A on May 1, he admitted repeatedly hoping he did not again blow out the elbow. The third time he faced major league hitters, on June 8, he exited early and missed a month, citing shoulder tightness.
But the evidence increasingly shows the man is back. Darvish did not yield a hit until Friday's fourth inning at Angel Stadium and did not yield a run until his 95th and final pitch. That pitch, the ninth Andrelton Simmons saw in a two-out battle, resulted in the Angels' first well-struck baseball, and lone run, of the night. They lost, 2-1, their ragtag relief group victimized by the Rangers' vicious offense.
But this was a night meant for the consideration of elbows.
A 2014 UC San Francisco study of 80 major leaguers who had Tommy John surgery found their average fastball velocity declined 0.7 mph, from 91.3 mph to 90.6, after surgery.
The Angels' starter, Tyler Skaggs, is also a recent recoveree. He had the surgery seven months prior but returned later than Darvish. His first two starts showed promise; his next several demonstrated there was work to be done.
On Friday, progress appeared accomplished. Skaggs struck out eight Rangers in six innings, progressively capable of using his curveball, changeup or fastball to elicit an errant swing.
On Friday afternoon, right-hander Nick Tropeano returned to Angel Stadium for the first time since he underwent Tommy John surgery Aug. 16. He said he was happy to be back. Garrett Richards, attempting to avoid the surgery with stem-cell therapy, stretched out his throwing, while Andrew Heaney, who had the surgery in July, watched intently. It will take them all until at least next year to pitch again.
"We've seen it with all these guys," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "When you get back and around the guys, there's a sense of normalcy to your life."
After a question about Darvish, Scioscia spoke of the challenge of diving whole-heartedly into the vagaries of rehab when ballplayers have been forever trained to take the sport one day at a time.
"You can't just chop off 18 months and say, 'I'm ready,'" Scioscia said. "You have to grind it out."
The Angels are expecting Matt Shoemaker to visit them at the ballpark sometime soon, before the current 10-game homestand ends Sept. 19. Shoemaker is recovering from Sunday surgery to stop bleeding on his brain after he was struck by a line drive while pitching. ... Catcher Geovany Soto said he expects to begin doing defensive drills. A free agent at season's end, Soto has been out since Aug. 15 because of right knee inflammation. There will be no minor league games to play when he is ready to rehab, so he will have to work his way back in the majors. ... Rookie-league outfielder Cam Williams, a 2016 25th-round pick, was suspended for 56 games without pay because he tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance. An MLB press release described the substance as a metabolite of nandrolone.