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Skaggs slowly steering his way toward 2016

Angels left-hander offers insight into early rehab progress, gaining weight and Kobe Bryant

ANAHEIM -- Tyler Skaggs' patience is being tested like never before this holiday season.

The Angels' promising young starter is still in the embryonic stages of his recovery from Tommy John surgery, a procedure that will keep Skaggs off a Major League mound until 2016. He has been cleared to start lifting weights, but is taking it very slow. He can start throwing shortly after the new year, but will only do so in six-week intervals and will start by tossing baseballs underhand.

Skaggs was having a breakout 2014 season -- 4.30 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 113 innings -- before partially tearing his ulnar collateral ligament 4 2/3 innings into a no-hitter in Baltimore on July 31. Now, the product of Santa Monica, Calif., rehabs four days a week with Angels physical therapist Bernard Li -- splitting time at Pepperdine University and Movement Performance Institute in Los Angeles -- and counts the days until he can finally do what he loves again.

"It's a slow process," Skaggs said. "It's really getting to me at the moment, because I sit here and my arm is feeling great, I'm happy and I want to push it, but at the same time, I have to take a step back and realize that I'm not even playing next year, so I have to take it slow."

Before taking a short break for Christmas, Skaggs spoke with about the grind of his rehab, his expectations moving forward and his favorite childhood athlete: Kobe Bryant.

Video: [email protected]: Skaggs holds O's hitless before injury exit

Q: As soon as it was announced that you'd be having Tommy John surgery in early August, the Angels said you will not be pitching at all in 2015. What's it like knowing that no matter what you do, you will not pitch next year?

A: I think when the season comes it'll hit me a lot harder. Right now, I'm just kind of enjoying the offseason. I feel like it's a normal offseason, lifting weights and just kind of hanging out. ... Honestly, I don't know if I've wrapped my head around it, because it's kind of tough. When the season starts, I know I'll have that itch that I'll really want to play. At the same time, I know that I just need to keep my head down, keep grinding and keep working.

Q: Given that next year will be a wash, is it hard to find the motivation to push it hard in your rehab?

A: Not at all, especially now that we have all these young pitchers. I want to keep my name in the news and I want to keep my face around the team, to let them know that I'm still here and I'm still working hard and I'm still part of the team. ... They have a young lefty [Andrew Heaney], they have a young righty [Nick Tropeano]. It's one of those things where I'm working as hard as I can to come back and really show these guys that I'm here to stay.

Q: Have you thought about what you'll be like when you come back, and are you worried you won't be the same guy?

A: I honestly don't have any [expectations] because I don't know. I haven't played catch yet, so I don't know how my arm feels. Personally, I feel fine. Mentally, I haven't even wrapped my head around my elbow yet, because honestly it doesn't hurt; it feels fine. It's just a nasty scar and that's it, mostly. It feels great. I don't know if I have any expectations, honestly. But one thing I can say, I've been talking to my doctor, talking to my rehab coordinator, and everything is good. It's looking right on schedule, so I'm really happy about it.

Q: When you were told you needed Tommy John surgery, how long did you sulk or think about the long process ahead, and at what point were you able to just move on?

A: I kind of sat there and sulked for a month, and then when we went to the playoffs, we went to Kansas City, that was actually really good for me. And Garrett [Richards] went, too, so it was actually very fun. It's not nice, I don't wish surgery upon anybody, but Garrett being injured and me being injured kind of around the same time helped me and him stay focused. I talked to him a lot, really just about grinding it out and trying to get back to this team.

Q: Garrett talked about how he binge-watched TV shows when he was laying up on the couch, waiting for his left leg to heal as the season was winding down. How have you filled up your days?

A: Just kind of hanging out. It's pretty boring, I'm not going to lie. I'm the type of guy who likes to go out and do things, and it's tough for me to sit on the couch and watch TV all day. That's not my personality, that's not what I do with my life, so it was a little hard, but at the same time, I haven't really done much. I've been lifting weights, been trying to eat healthy, trying to gain weight because I'm easily the skinniest guy on the team, so you know I have to gain weight here and there.

Q: Have you been able to gain weight?

A: I have, actually.

Q: Good weight?

A: Good weight. Hopefully I can come back looking pretty good in Spring Training and you'll be like, 'Who is this guy?'

Q: How much have you gained?

A: Fifteen pounds so far. That's from sitting here and eating all day.

Q: That sure doesn't sound like good weight.

A: (Laughs) But the thing is, you lift and it becomes good weight.

Q: Shifting gears a little bit, you're a big Lakers fan and you love your Air Jordans (Skaggs says he has 200 -- yes, 200! -- pairs). What'd you think of Kobe Bryant passing Michael Jordan on the NBA's all-time scoring list?

A: Like I tell everybody, Kobe is easily the best player of my generation. I'm 23, was born in 1991, so I came at the end of Jordan. Not the end, but I was growing up at the time he was winning all these championships, so I watched him and didn't really get to feel his greatness. I've been a Lakers fan since I was basically born, so I watched Kobe win five championships, and for him to pass Jordan, it cements him as one of the best.

Q: But not better than M.J., right?

A: No, no, no, no, no. Jordan's the best. By far. But Kobe is easily second-best, and to see [broadcaster and former NBA player] Reggie Miller say that Jordan on his worst day is 10 times better than Kobe is a slap in Kobe's face.

Q: What's the one thing you really want for Christmas?

A: I don't know, honestly. I've got everything that I need at the moment. Probably some more shoes, you know? ... A new elbow. A healthy elbow, so that I'll be able to pitch this season, would be a nice Christmas gift.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez.
Read More: Los Angeles Angels, Tyler Skaggs