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Skaggs strengthening case for rotation spot

Making second spring appearance, lefty shuts down Reds over four innings

Special to

TEMPE, Ariz. -- When the Angels acquired Tyler Skaggs in the offseason trade that sent Mark Trumbo to Arizona, they did so with the left-hander in mind for the starting rotation.

After two starts this spring, the jury is still out.

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Manager Mike Scioscia's final verdict won't come for another few weeks -- perhaps longer, depending on when the club determines it needs a fifth starter -- but Skaggs answered a few questions Sunday in his second Cactus League appearance.

The 22-year-old shut out the Reds and allowed just one hit in four innings of the Angels' 3-1 win.

Skaggs set down eight of the first nine he faced, including three via strikeout. Similarly, he set down six of the first seven in his previous start.

He did not make it through the third inning in that outing, however.

"I felt a lot more comfortable on the mound today," Skaggs said. "I felt that last start was pretty good, too, it was just the last inning that fell apart."

The Angels need Skaggs to prove he is ready to step into a Major League rotation. The other options for a fifth starter are almost nonexistent.

"He has terrific stuff and hopefully he's going to be at the level we need to start the season," Scioscia said.

Skaggs wasn't ready a year ago, when he entered the spring in contention with fellow rookies Patrick Corbin and Randall Delgado for the D-backs' rotation. Skaggs was sent to Minor League camp after just nine innings in which he compiled an 11.00 ERA.

He admitted he put too much pressure on himself, a lesson he is applying this year in a similar pursuit.

"I have no expectations this year. I'm just going out and pitching," Skaggs said. "Losing that out to Patrick Corbin really helped me coming into this year. Losing the fifth spot, you know, it's the worst feeling there is."

With a plus curveball and a fastball back in the mid-90s -- after the D-backs were concerned about his velocity late last season -- Skaggs struck out Brandon Phillips in the first inning Sunday and got Roger Bernadina looking with a curve in the third. Skaggs also got Ramon Santiago looking before Chris Heisey doubled down the third-base line for the Reds' first hit.

"You couldn't ask for anything more," Scioscia said after the game. "His stuff is legit and that ball was really coming out of his hand. He had a couple good sliders and changeups. He pitched a terrific game."

Scioscia wasn't worried about the velocity concerns of a year ago.

"He pitched against us in spring last year," Scioscia said. "I've seen that velocity here at times and that's encouraging. He's got plenty of arm. He has to match that with command, and once he does that, he'll be a terrific Major Leaguer."

Skaggs credits a longer stride this season for the return of his velocity.

"The farther you get out, the harder you throw; you're using your legs more and less stress on the arm," Skaggs said. "It's one of those things, a small mechanical fix that's worked wonders."

Skaggs issued two walks Sunday, both to Joey Votto after long at-bats.

"He's got a great eye," Skaggs said of Votto, who led baseball in walks a year ago. "It was actually frustrating me because he kept fouling them off. I'm challenging him, but he's a good hitter. ... I'm frustrated I walked him twice, but it is what it is."

Skaggs next audition is scheduled for Friday against the Padres at Peoria Sports Complex.

Chris Gabel is a contributor to

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Tyler Skaggs