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Encouraging news for Shoemaker on his birthday

SEATTLE -- Right-hander Matt Shoemaker has been making steady progress since straining his left oblique 12 days ago, but Saturday was somewhat of a breakthrough.

Shoemaker, who turned 28 on Saturday, had an unrestricted long-toss session for the first time, then did some one-hop drills to simulate throwing on a downhill angle. If he feels good upon arriving at Safeco Field on Sunday morning, he'll throw his first bullpen session.

"The tightness, soreness, whatever you want to call it, is just about gone," Shoemaker said. "It's there, but I've barely felt it. Each day it's drastically better."

Shoemaker has played catch for six consecutive days, gradually lengthening the distance and ramping up the intensity until early Saturday afternoon, when he backed up to roughly 200 feet with no restrictions.

If Sunday's bullpen session goes well, Shoemaker could face hitters during one of the workout days at Angel Stadium next week, then perhaps be lined up to start Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Oct. 5.

"With the way it's going," he said, "I've very optimistic."

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, Matt Shoemaker