In 2010, when Mike Trout was a relatively anonymous minor league outfielder, Tyler Skaggs was his roommate. Trout watched with delight from center field as Skaggs fired fastball after incredible fastball.
The way Trout remembered it, Skaggs could hit 96 mph, and 97, and even 98.
The Angels sent Skaggs to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Dan Haren trade. As the two players arrived in the major leagues, Trout kept up with his old roomie on television. He turned on one game last year and could not believe his eyes: Skaggs was throwing 89 mph.
“I was wondering what was going on,” Trout said. “I was used to seeing the fuel come out of his arm.”
The new and improved Skaggs — and his vastly improved fastball — pitched the first seven innings of Friday’s game against the New York Mets. Skaggs got no decision, giving up four runs on nine hits, no walks and four strikeouts.
He is the only member of the Angels’ rotation to complete seven innings in each of his first two starts.
He is a work in progress. So are the Angels. They got to .500 for the first time this season, with a 5-4 victory over in 11 innings. They won on a walk-off hit-by-pitch to Hank Conger.
For the Angels, a 5-5 start is not great, but it is better than their 2-8 start last year.
When the Angels got Skaggs back last winter, acquired for Mark Trumbo, industry analysts considered the trade a huge risk. Skaggs was 22, and his fastball velocity had fallen dramatically.
In a sport where any increase in velocity is noteworthy, the average velocity of Skaggs’ fastball has jumped 3 mph, to 92 mph. He sat in the 90-94 mph range in his first start of the season last week, and again Friday.
When the Angels made the trade, General Manager Jerry Dipoto said he had noticed Skaggs had shortened the stride in his delivery. It sounds minor, but pitching coach Mike Butcher said a choppy stride could minimize the power of the legs in driving toward home plate, alter the spot at which the pitcher releases the ball, and accelerate the delivery.
“There have been a series of adjustments we’ve made, from the feet up,” Butcher said. “It’s by no means an overhaul. It’s just to get him in tune with his body.”
The Angels hoped to get another starting pitcher last winter — Matt Garza turned down their offer of $52 million — so they’d have the option to send Skaggs to the minors to start the season. But they did not sign another starter, so they had to all but guarantee Skaggs a spot in the rotation.
So far, so good. But two starts is only so far, and Dipoto is not about to crow that Skaggs is a bona fide flamethrower once again.
“Over the long season, we’re not anticipating him holding that type of velocity,” Dipoto said. “He doesn’t need to throw 95 mph to be effective.”
Skaggs has made better use of his two-seam fastball, and a little more use of his curve. And, although he walked four batters per nine innings in his time with the Diamondbacks, he has walked one in his first 15 innings with the Angels.
“You can have all the velocity in the world,” Butcher said. “If you’re not in the zone, you’re not going to get people out.”
If you miss your spot and throw a fastball in the middle of the zone, however, better to be topping out at 94 mph than 91.
“If you leave a pitch over the middle at 91,” Trout said, “they’ll kill it.”