Matt Shoemaker was diagnosed Tuesday with a mild strain of his left oblique, a rib-cage injury that will force the Angels right-hander to miss his next start and could threaten his availability for the playoffs.
Shoemaker, when asked whether he will be ready for the postseason, said, “Very optimistically, yeah.”
“There has not been one thing set in stone that says you’re going to be ready in one week, you’re going to be ready in two weeks. There’s none of that. I’m going to show up tomorrow, do more treatment and see how it feels.”
Shoemaker, who is 16-4 with a 3.04 earned-run average and has been the team’s second-best starter behind ace Jered Weaver, suffered the injury in the eighth inning of Monday night’s 8-1 win over the Seattle Mariners, which clinched a playoff spot and reduced the Angels’ magic number to win the division to three.
Oblique strains have sidelined some pitchers for as much as six weeks, but because Shoemaker’s strain is mild, he should be able to return sooner.
If he misses his final two regular-season starts and is pushed back to Game 4 of the American League division series on Oct. 6, Shoemaker would have almost three weeks before his next start.
“You never know where these things go with pitchers,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “Like hamstring injuries, they have a life of their own and can go a lot of different ways. But Matt feels there’s not as much discomfort today. We’ll take it day to day. There’s no time frame yet, but the news could have been a lot worse.”
The challenge for Shoemaker and the Angels will be to determine when the pitcher is ready to throw at full strength. If he is not fully healed before he returns to a mound, Shoemaker probably would aggravate the injury and miss the playoffs.
Knowing the Angels have already lost starters Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs to season-ending injuries, and knowing the team’s World Series hopes could hinge on whether he pitches well, Shoemaker probably will feel pressured to push through some discomfort in an effort to return.
“If you’re in this game a long time, you know you can’t heal to a calendar,” Scioscia said. “This thing takes its own time. I’ve seen guys at end of spring training look at opening day, they say they need to be ready by then and set themselves back. Matt’s progress is not going to be tied to any schedule or what’s happening. It will be tied to this oblique healing.”
Asked whether he had someone in mind to start in Shoemaker’s place Saturday night, Scioscia said, “You have any ideas?” Left-handers Michael Roth and Wade LeBlanc are the likely candidates, but neither is stretched out to a point where he can throw 90 pitches.
“It will be a bullpen day,” Scioscia said. “Out of our five starting spots right now, there are two bullpen days. That’s where we are.”
The Angels, fortunate to have an expanded September roster at their disposal, have used as many as eight relievers to fill Richards’ spot. But they have also had to use numerous relievers in many of the games left-handers C.J. Wilson and Hector Santiago have started, putting an extreme burden on their bullpen.
“Unfortunately, right now, you’re talking about three-fifths of your rotation that you’re depending a lot on that is out,” Scioscia said. “But you have to move forward, you have to keep pitching, you have to keep getting outs, and we’re confident we will. It just might be a little bit unconventional in how we do so.”