Garrett Richards is scheduled to begin throwing off a mound in the second week of February, putting the Angels right-hander slightly ahead of schedule in his return from the left-knee surgery that ended his season last August.
General Manager Jerry Dipoto said Richards has been throwing five times a week at a distance of 130-150 feet and jogging on a "de-weighted" treadmill at about 75% of his body weight.
The hard-throwing 26-year-old right-hander, who went 13-4 with a 2.61 earned-run average last season, is expected to begin jogging on his own by the end of next week, at which point he will begin throwing off a mound.
"Ordinarily, he'd have thrown off a mound a couple times at this point in January, so he's not too far behind where he'd be in his normal throwing preparation," Dipoto said. "It's a matter of making sure the knee is stable and his lower body is in good shape. We're very optimistic, as we have been throughout."
Richards, who tore his patellar tendon while covering first base in an Aug. 20 game in Fenway Park, has not done any fielding drills or lateral-movement agility drills. The Angels will ease him slowly into those activities in spring-training workouts, which begin on Feb. 20 in Tempe, Ariz.
"Garrett looks great, he feels great, he's ready to go, and he's chomping at the bit," Dipoto said. "But we're going to take it conservatively. There's no reason to rush. Last August, the expectation was this would be a six- to nine-month recovery. It looks like it will be closer to the front end of that than the back end."
Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz said on MLB Network Tuesday that the transition from long-tossing on flat ground to throwing off a mound can be difficult for a right-hander recovering from left-knee surgery.
"You balance on your right knee, but you really have to finish and drive on your left knee," Smoltz said. "I think on flat ground you can do anything you want, you can feel like you're healed, but when you [throw off a mound] it's different, and that can determine whether or not there's a chain reaction to other injuries.
"You can say, 'I'm favoring my left knee, so I'm not going to plant as much,' which is going to correlate to your right shoulder. So I think when he can do all the drills, run, field, make those drastic cuts and moves, I think that's when they're going to feel comfortable to allow him to throw off the mound."
Richards is eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter, and if he and the Angels can't agree on a deal, a hearing has been set for Feb. 11. Richards asked for a salary of $3.8 million; the Angels countered at $2.4 million.
While Dipoto expressed a desire to secure Richards to a multiyear deal either "this year or somewhere down the road," the sides have only discussed a one-year deal this winter, according to a person familiar with negotiations who was not allowed to speak publicly about them.
Dipoto also said that 20-year-old Cuban shortstop Roberto Baldoquin, who recently signed for $8 million, will not participate in major league camp this spring. Instead, he will report to minor league camp before starting the season at the Class-A level.
With four players — Josh Rutledge, Grant Green, Johnny Giavotella and Taylor Featherston — competing for the second-base and utility jobs, "there's only so many innings and at-bats to go around," Dipoto said.
"He'll work out with the big league group in morning drills," Dipoto said of Baldoquin, "but we'd rather he get four, five, six at-bats a day on the minor league side than watch a big league game and maybe get one at-bat."