For all the physical pain Tyler Skaggs endured during his 16-month recovery from reconstructive elbow surgery, it was nothing compared to the mental anguish of sitting in the Angel Stadium dugout night after night and fighting a feeling of uselessness.
“Watching the games, not being able to play, for me, that was the most grueling part of rehab,” Skaggs said Tuesday during the Angels Baseball Foundation’s annual children’s holiday party at the ESPN Zone in Anaheim. “I’ve never been injured, so I was, like, losing my mind.
“It was way worse than any of the physical pain, because you want to help the team win. There was nothing to look forward to except sitting there.”
Soon, the monotony will end. In two months, Skaggs, a 24-year-old left-hander, will report to spring training with Angels pitchers and catchers in Tempe, Ariz. He will throw bullpen sessions every other day or so for two weeks. He will take part in pitchers fielding practice every morning.
It’s the most tedious part of camp for most big league pitchers, but Skaggs is looking forward to it with the anticipation of a Little Leaguer before opening day.
“I love PFPs — no way I’m complaining about them,” Skaggs said. “It’s going to be great to be out there doing drills and throwing.”
Skaggs was 5-5 with a 4.30 earned-run average in 18 starts in 2014 when he felt a burning sensation in his forearm while delivering a pitch in Baltimore’s Camden Yards on July 31.
He underwent Tommy John surgery Aug. 13, and the Angels, not wanting Skaggs to risk further injury by coming back too soon, declared at the time that Skaggs would miss all of 2015.
As frustrating as that was for Skaggs last September, when he felt good enough at times to pitch, he is glad the Angels didn’t push him. By the start of spring training, Skaggs will have been out 18 months, the back end of the recovery time for his surgery, which is 12 to 18 months.
“I’ll have to knock a little rust off because it’s been so long,” Skaggs said. “But at the same time, I think it was good to have that time off, because my arm feels really fresh.”
Skaggs went through a regimented throwing program last season, mixing in periods of rest and recovery with his progression from catch to long-toss to throwing off a mound. A six-inning, 90-pitch simulated game in Arizona in October was a final exam of sorts.
“My arm felt great and my stuff was crisp,” said Skaggs, who was acquired from Arizona before 2014. “I felt really good, honestly. I’m ready to roll. I’m really looking forward to showing them what I can do.”
Skaggs, who mixes a 92-mph fastball with a curve and changeup, was a rotation mainstay in 2014, but he is not guaranteed of a spot next spring.
Barring a trade, the Angels have seven other major league-caliber arms in Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Hector Santiago, Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker and Nick Tropeano.
“I’m coming in just like when I got traded to the Angels — I have to show I’m able to pitch in the big leagues and make the team,” Skaggs said. “I’m all for the competition. It will make me work even harder.”
If Skaggs is physically sound and as sharp as he was in 2014, Manager Mike Scioscia likes his chances.
“Tyler understands he has to win a position,” Scioscia said. “But if he’s throwing to his capabilities, he will win a spot, because there’s no doubt his stuff is really, really good.”
Skaggs has two minor league options, so the Angels could send him to triple-A without having to pass him through waivers. Skaggs didn’t spend 1 1/2 years rehabilitating from surgery with a goal of pitching at Salt Lake in mind, but if that’s the road that leads him back to the big leagues, he’ll take it.
“Nothing is a given in this game,” Skaggs said. “If I don’t make team, I’ll go down to triple-A, work on my stuff and come back up when I get the call. It’s not life or death.”