July 31, 2014.
That was the last time fans of the Los Angeles Angels saw Tyler Skaggs take the hill in a Halos uniform.
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It started as one of the best games of Skaggs’ career.
The then-23-year-old was in the middle of no-hitting the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards through 4.2 innings. He had thrown 73 pitches, struck out seven and walked two.
After throwing to two batters in the fifth inning, Skaggs began shrugging his arm, shaking it as if hoping it would loosen up. Then he walked the third batter he faced and in the middle of facing the fourth batter of the inning, he threw a pitch and immediately pointed to Mike Scioscia and Angels trainers to come out of the dugout.
It was an odd moment.
Skaggs seemed to have great control of his cutter and slider, getting good movement from both, and his arm action seemed to be intact. The pitch he threw that would end up being his last in a year and a half didn’t miss the plate by much, but Skaggs seemed to know what was wrong immediately.
And so did Scioscia, who came onto the field to check on his young left-hander who was in his first season in Anaheim.
Skaggs left the game with what the team called “forearm tightness”, but it wasn’t until the following week that the public became aware of how serious his injury actually was.
A partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing arm, meaning Tommy John surgery was almost inevitable and a 12-18 month recovery time was definite.
After hearing the news, Skaggs said he was “dumbfounded on how it happened.” He went on to tell MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez:
"“It’s hard to go from throwing 95 to 87; or giving up no hits, thinking it’s turning into something special, and then all of a sudden you throw one pitch and you can’t feel your hand.”"
In the same article, Scioscia said Skaggs was “disappointed”, but optimistic:
"“…as he began to understand the situation, he definitely came to grips with it. He’ll move forward, work hard to get back on the right schedule to where he’s healthy and ready to go in 2016.”"
And so, we’re here. 2016.
Pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 18 and the team will finally get to look at how the rotation might shape up in the next month and a half.
Skaggs is going to have to compete with Andrew Heaney, Hector Santiago, Nick Tropeano, and Matt Shoemaker to prove he is ready to be back in The Show. Logistically, it would seem at least three of those pitchers will have to start the year at Triple-A Salt Lake, unless Tropeano or Shoemaker move to the bullpen, which is always an option.
Skaggs and Heaney may be one of the most competitive bouts because Heaney wasn’t a member of the Angels when Skaggs was injured. He pretty much filled in as another Skaggs — a left-hander with movement who is working on control as a young pitcher with plenty of potential still learning the ropes of the Major League game.
I really want to wait until I see how everyone pitches next month before putting together the pieces of where everyone should end up, but as for now I can see Richards, Wilson, Weaver, Santiago and Shoemaker starting the year in the rotation with everyone else going back to Triple-A in April.
We haven’t seen what Skaggs is capable of yet with his newly-built arm so it would make sense for him to start the year in the Minors until he gets comfortable with live competition again. Heaney pitched well in 2015 (6-4, 3.49 ERA, 78 K’s) but the Angels may end up with too many left-handers leaving him to wait until someone struggles or gets injured before he gets called up.
Tropeano also filled-in well last year going 3-2 with a 3.82 ERA and he will probably compete with Shoemaker for a final spot in the rotation.
That leaves Skaggs on the outside looking in, unless he really dominates in Spring Training and pitches like he did on July 31, 2014.
Even if he starts the year at Triple-A, he will probably get at least some time in the Majors this league and if he doesn’t, other teams may inquire about his services in trade talk before the end of July.
The competition begins next month. For the first time in a while, I’m actually really excited to see the starting rotation competition.