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Angels aren't ruling out a return this season by left-hander Andrew Heaney

Angels aren't ruling out a return this season by left-hander Andrew Heaney
Angels left-hander Andrew Heaney still hopes to return from elbow ligament replacement surgery this season. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

At the start of spring training, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said the information available to him indicated there was "nothing" that would make left-hander Andrew Heaney available to pitch in 2017, one year after elbow ligament replacement surgery.

"I just don't see it happening this year," Scioscia said.

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At that time, Heaney said he retained hope to pitch this season, though he declined to discuss his goals in detail. Three months later, he has become more open as his recovery rate has kept pace. He knows he's still months and many potential pitfalls away from a return, but he has already broached the subject with the team and its doctors, to gauge their willingness.

"In some sense, I know I can do whatever … I want," Heaney said recently. "But, also, I understand that they're medical professionals and they understand the safest thing. You know what I mean? It's about finding a balance between the two."

So, will he pitch this season? General manager Billy Eppler is unwilling to rule it out.

"We're open-minded to whatever the outcome is," Eppler said. "We are still a time away from the ultimate resolution, so I think it's premature to say yes or no to that question. The way that he has recovered and responded to each mile marker, so to speak, along the race, probably allows some growing optimism. But we're still a long ways away."

Even the manager's perspective appears to have changed, if slightly.

"Andrew's rehab has gone flawlessly," Scioscia said over the weekend. "But there are still some major hurdles that he's gotta get over before he's in that conversation of, 'I think he can come back around this date.' So, my position right now is: Andrew's rehabbing. What we are looking at is to let the rehab take care of itself.

"If there's a day where he's available this year, it would be a pleasant surprise."

Eppler said the Angels' openness was unrelated to the spate of significant injuries that struck the team's pitching staff for the second consecutive season.

"Those decisions are made independently, on what's best for the player and his long-term health," he said.

Heaney, 25, had elbow ligament replacement surgery on July 1, 2016, after he suffered a torn UCL while pitching in the Angels' second game of the season. He first tried to rehab the injury with rest and a stem-cell injection, neither of which worked.

A scheduled two-week break in Heaney's rehab will end this weekend, and he will resume throwing bullpen sessions. Come Sept. 1, when major league rosters expand, he will be 14 months removed from surgery. Recovery from his type of procedure typically spans from 12 to 24 months. There's plenty of precedent for a return this season.

"I'm gonna push, and that's the goal, but whether I end up there or not is out of my control. Not totally out of my control, but a lot," Heaney said. "I'm gonna continue on the program that I'm on. I'm gonna push when I feel like I need to push. And I'm gonna respect the breaks when I need to."

Short hop

Right-hander Andrew Bailey visited Dr. David Altchek in New York on Monday. Eppler said imaging and the examination "revealed no new findings" in Bailey's injured shoulder. Bailey will return to Orange County and proceed with his throwing program "as tolerated," Eppler said.

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Twitter: @pedromoura

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