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OC Register: Angels reliever Robert Stephenson questionable for Opening Day

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TEMPE, Ariz. — Robert Stephenson might not be ready to start the season after all.

Stephenson, who hasn’t pitched in a game this spring because of shoulder soreness, is still feeling enough discomfort that manager Ron Washington conceded Friday morning the right-hander may run out of time to be available by the March 28 opener.

Washington said the Angels already performed testing on Stephenson to assess the seriousness of the injury.

“We’ve done all that stuff,” Washington said. “Now it’s just a matter of getting through the discomfort. He understands what the issue is. I think he’s got a better grasp of some stuff he’s just going to have to deal with. It will get better in the distance, but before that he was unsure.

“The kid was scared. He never had that kind of discomfort before, but it’s nothing major. Now he knows that and we’ll progress a little quicker, but I don’t know if it will be quick enough for him to open the season.”

Stephenson, who signed a three-year, $33-million deal with the Angels in January, was briefly shut down because of the shoulder problem early in the spring. He resumed throwing and progressed to full bullpen sessions, including all of his pitches.

As recently as Monday, Stephenson said he was “feeling pretty good,” and “moving in the right direction.” He said he “the plan still is to be ready for Opening Day.”

That would require Stephenson to get to live batting practice and then pitch at least a few times in games.

Stephenson, 31, was penciled in to be one of the Angels’ high leverage relievers, most likely working as the primary setup man for closer Carlos Estévez.

The Angels signed him on the heels of a strong finish last season with the Tampa Bay Rays. Stephenson, who tweaked his slider after a June trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates, posted a 2.35 ERA with 60 strikeouts and eight walks in 38 1/3 innings with the Rays.

His contract includes an unusual clause that allows the Angels to add a team option if Stephenson misses time with a major elbow injury. That would not apply to a shoulder injury, though.

Although the Angels at this time don’t seem to be concerned that Stephenson has anything major, they are now considering whether they want to move right-hander José Soriano back to the bullpen.

Soriano posted a 3.64 ERA in 42 innings of relief with the Angels last season, but the Angels believe the 25-year-old still has a chance to be a quality starting pitcher, as he was before undergoing Tommy John surgery. Soriano is scheduled to start Friday afternoon against the Seattle Mariners. It would be his second start in a major-league exhibition, plus one in a B game.

“First, you take care of need, and then you can start thinking long term,” Washington said. “We decided we wanted to try to see if Soriano can start, and so far he has proven to us that he possibly can. Now, Stephenson down that means we’ve got a void in the bullpen. Now we’re going to make a decision on our need right there. Long term would be Soriano being a starter. But if we can’t fill that void in the bullpen, Soriano has done it before. We’ve got an option.”

The Angels have four other relievers left in camp to fight for a bullpen spot: right-handers Ben Joyce, Guillo Zuñiga and Hunter Strickland and left-hander Drew Pomeranz. If Stephenson isn’t ready, the choices are to put Soriano back in the bullpen and keep one of those pitchers, or leave Soriano as a rotation option – probably in the minors – and keep two of those relievers in the majors.


Second baseman Brandon Drury returned to camp for a workout after being out with an illness for a few days. Drury was not in the lineup, but he might play Saturday. …

Shortstop Zach Neto, who had also been out with an illness, returned to the lineup Friday. Neto had come back to the facility for a workout Thursday. …

The Angels’ spring breakout prospect game is scheduled to be played at 4 p.m. Saturday, after the main exhibition game against the Chicago Cubs. The Angels prospects will play a team of Dodgers prospects in the late game. Right-hander Caden Dana is scheduled to start for the Angels. Although most of the spring breakout games are scheduled for seven innings, the Angels-Dodgers game will be nine innings.

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