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OC Register: 2019 Angels season preview: To contend, they’ll need to keep their pitchers healthy

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Now a believer that part of staying healthy is thinking positively, Tyler Skaggs has decided to ignore what social media has to say about the Angels’ rotation.

“I can’t follow any baseball or Angels Twitter anymore,” Skaggs said, “because it’s like ‘Apocalypse Now’ when someone misses one start.”

While adding that “I love the fans,” Skaggs clearly feels their frustration. Many Angels fans clearly have become hardened and cynical after what’s happened over the past three years.

A raft of serious injuries, most significantly to the starting pitchers, have doomed the team to three straight losing seasons.

If 2019 is going to be different, and if the Angels are going to meet their expectations and the hopes of fans, they will have to get through a year without anyone’s dehydration or blister turning into a torn ulnar collateral ligament.

“I want to change the narrative on that,” Skaggs said. “I hate talking about injuries.”

There has been far too much to talk about lately.

Since 2016, the Angels have had seven starters and two relievers undergo Tommy John surgery, although that includes John Lamb and Brandon Wood, who had previous Tommy John surgeries and were never expected to play a significant role.

But Andrew Heaney, Garrett Richards and Shohei Ohtani all looked to be major contributors before they had the procedure. Richards missed even more time because he spent much of 2016 trying to rehab the UCL injury and in 2017 he was out with a nerve issue.

That also doesn’t include Skaggs, who had his Tommy John surgery in 2014 and returned in the middle of 2016, only to miss significant time in 2017 and 2018 with muscular injuries.

It also doesn’t include Matt Shoemaker, who missed half of 2017 and most of 2018 with what was eventually diagnosed as a split pronator tendon.

As a result of all that, the Angels’ depth has been stretched to the point of giving starts to 30 different pitchers in three years. Only five pitchers have made 25 starts in a season for the Angels in that time. They used the second most starters in the majors last year and in 2016, and the sixth most in 2017.

What are they doing about it?

Over the years the Angels have replaced several members of the training and conditioning staffs, changed their routines and added new types of workouts between starts.

Last year they changed the default rest for their pitchers from four days between starts to five days early in the season, which was done out of the interest of the health of all their pitchers, not just an adjustment to assimilate Ohtani into the rotation.

None of it has made much difference.

“I’ve been around the big leagues a long time and there have always been approaches toward lessening injuries,” Manager Brad Ausmus said. “But the more I’ve been around them, the more I think it’s random. There are some factors you can’t put a number on like genetics. Sometimes it’s just those freak injuries on one throw or one move. We’re trying to do everything we can. Hopefully, over the long haul we can get more and more information to keep our players from injuries.”

In reality, there is probably no single answer to keep a pitching staff healthy, but rather a series of best practices for each individual pitcher.

Matt Harvey is new to the Angels this year, after enduring his own nightmare of injuries during the past few years with the New York Mets.

“It’s been hard the last couple years to get the demons out,” Harvey said.

Last season, though, Harvey was healthy enough to start 28 games and pitch 155 innings for the Mets and Cincinnati Reds. This spring there was an Apocalypse Now moment when he was shut down because of a strained glute, but he ended up missing just a couple days of throwing, and how he’s on target to start the second game of the regular season.

“The training staff here has done a great job,” Harvey said. “I saw a couple different people in the offseason to work on a few different things. These guys have been on me every single day. They are doing a great job. I told them when I came here, ‘I am completely on board with you guys doing whatever you want to do to keep me on the field,’ and they are doing a great job.”

The other new pitcher in the Angels’ rotation is Trevor Cahill, who is coming off a season in which he went on the disabled list three times. Only one of those was arm-related, and it was just for the minimum 10 days. Cahill, however, signed late in spring training, so he was starting off behind. This time he signed in December and had a normal offseason and a normal spring, in which he had no physical issues at all.

Skaggs had one hiccup in spring training, when he overexerted himself working on an unfamiliar pitch and had to take a step back. Although he missed a start, he only missed one day of throwing, so he believes that he’s also fine.

Skaggs hasn’t had a serious issue with his arm since 2016, when he returned from Tommy John surgery. He had a strained oblique that cost him half of 2017 and a groin problem that was an issue for two months in 2018. He suffered the latter while working out in the weight room after a start in June.

“I don’t lift after I pitch now,” said Skaggs, who also changed his winter workout regimen to avoid those muscular problems. “I feel more flexible now.”

Andrew Heaney is the only one of the projected starters who isn’t healthy as the season begins. Heaney is currently down with elbow inflammation, the same problem he had at the start of last season. He missed the first two weeks of the season last year, and ended up leading the team with 180 innings and 30 starts.

Because of Heaney’s injury, the Angels will start the season with both Jaime Barría and Felix Peña in the rotation. Both pitchers performed well last year, and neither had any injury issues.

After that, the Angels have depth that includes Dillon Peters, who was acquired from the Miami Marlins over the winter. The Angels’ top two pitching prospects, Griffin Canning and José Suarez, both figure to start the season at Triple-A. Nick Tropeano is expecting to be back from his shoulder trouble around the end of April. JC Ramírez is projected to come back from Tommy John surgery around the beginning of June.

The Angels are hoping they have better depth to cover them in case of injuries than they have in the past, but mostly they are hoping they will finally be healthy enough that they won’t need it.

“Hopefully we can all have that chip on our shoulder because no one really respects our pitching staff,” Skaggs said. “If we keep doing what we’re doing in spring training, we’re going to be really good. I’m really excited about it.”

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50 minutes ago, AngelsWin.com said:

Since 2016, the Angels have had seven starters and two relievers undergo Tommy John surgery, although that includes John Lamb and Brandon Wood, who had previous Tommy John surgeries and were never expected to play a significant role.


Just when I thought we were rid of him.

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