Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs practicing a little swagger
At times he has flashed the arsenal of an ace, Tyler Skaggs finally healthy enough to fully explore the potential that made him a first-round draft pick.
He already has an ace’s attitude, something the Angels embrace given that belief in a game based on failure can be as fragile as the average elbow ligament.
And when it comes to the brittle nature of elbow ligaments, well, the Angels are entirely too well versed.
“If you watch the games, I sometimes have bad antics out there,” Skaggs explained. “I strike someone out and I’m kind of bouncing off the mound, feeling good.”
Ah, bad antics?
“Not bad antics, really, but more like you struck someone out and you’re kind of strutting around,” he said. “Every pitcher does it. I think I’m sometimes a little more noticeable.”
True, but then everything about Skaggs is becoming a little more noticeable, the left-hander performing at a level superior to anything he has shown since making his big league debut with Arizona in 2012.
Entering his start Friday against Oakland, his 3.08 earned-run average is more than a run below his career average.
Skaggs already has won as many times as he did in 26 starts the past two years combined. His next victory will be his sixth and that will mark a single-season high.
“With Tyler, we’ve seen a constant growth in confidence,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “This guy’s worked so hard to get back to where he was and even a little above that now.”
Skaggs started June with emphatic victories over Texas and Minnesota — one earned run allowed in 13 innings — pitching with minimal room for error as his teammates scored only five times for him.
His emergence comes at a point where even the most optimistic Angels fans not only consider the glass half-empty but also see it as scheduled for an MRI to check for tears.
The Angels opened spring training with such a surplus of starters that they were willing and able to approximate Shohei Ohtani’s workload in Japan by going to an occasional six-man rotation.
Here it is, only mid-June, and injures have claimed Ohtani, Matt Shoemaker and JC Ramirez, with the latest health questions surrounding Garrett Richards. That’s nearly half of the nine starters who were projected as possibilities back in February.
Pitching deep into games and doing so on less rest is the assignment the remaining starters seem to be facing at the moment, although three off days before the All-Star break should help.
Still, for a team that has lost four in a row, each defeat marked by a start that was, for various reasons, lacking, the Angels are looking at a situation where their rotation could be stressed even more.
“Right now, I don’t think that’s the pressing issue,” Scioscia said. “The lingering effect of maybe not having as much rest can show up later in the season. But let’s get there and see where these guys are.”
Still only 26 — he’ll turn 27 next month — Skaggs has endured everything from elbow ligament replacement surgery to biceps tendinitis to a flexor tendon strain to a torn oblique.
He was only 17 in 2009, when the Angels drafted him in the first round out of Santa Monica High.
The team eventually sent him to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a deal that brought Dan Haren, then reacquired him in the Mark Trumbo trade.
Skaggs arrives now at what will be just his 71st career start possessing the experience of an accomplished veteran, if not the resume of one. He’s still pursuing his first winning season, a 5-5 finish in 2014 is as close as he has come so far.
“I’ve had some success and some struggles,” Skaggs said. “I went to some deep places when I was injured, just dealing with everything. I’ve been through some highs and lows, for sure.”
It’s quite possible that he’s on his way to his tallest peak yet. Skaggs has had six quality starts this season, not including what must be one of the highest-quality nonquality starts in baseball.
On April 10 in Texas, he needed 114 pitches to grind through five, one-run innings that came during a stretch when the bullpen was gasping for rest.
Two weeks later, Skaggs produced seven stellar innings in a 2-0 victory over the Houston Astros and Gerrit Cole, a game after which he announced, “That’s what you live for.”
Pitching for the 2018 Angels has, at times, been a test of patience, this lineup so streaky that even Mike Trout went hitless in 21 at-bats.
During one stretch, the Angels lost four consecutive starts in which Skaggs allowed two runs three times and one run once.
He said his faith never has faded, not when he’s enjoying sustained health and a repertoire that now includes an approach-expanding changeup.
“When you go out there, you have to have confidence in yourself,” Skaggs said. “If you don’t have confidence, it’s tough to pitch.”
During baseball’s “Players Weekend” last season, Skaggs played with “Swaggy” arched across the back of his jersey.
With his occasional “bad antics,” the nickname seemed to fit, even if it actually was a lighthearted nod to Nick Young — a.k.a “Swaggy P” — who used to play for the Lakers, Skaggs’ favorite NBA team.
Either way, a reference to swagger made sense.
“Pitching with emotion is nice,” Skaggs said. “If I don’t pitch with emotion, I feel like I’m not being very real. If I was just a robot out there, I wouldn’t feel like myself.”
So far this season, Skaggs clearly is feeling like himself. Himself and maybe a little more.
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