ANAHEIM -- A nagging adductor injury derailed a career-best season for Tyler Skaggs, but the 27-year-old left-hander remains on track to return to the mound for the Angels before the end of the year.
Skaggs rejoined the Angels on Saturday and said he will throw a bullpen session on Sunday, which could line him up to pitch during next week's series at Oakland, barring any setbacks.
Skaggs hasn't started since Aug. 11 after aggravating his strained left adductor, which led to three stints on the disabled list this year. Prior to the injury, Skaggs had emerged as the Angels' best starter this season, posting a 3.78 ERA over a career-high 116 2/3 innings.
"We missed him," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's one name on a list of a lot of guys that unfortunately weren't able to do what we had anticipated. Tyler has made a lot of strides. I think that the one thing he continues to move forward on is his stamina over the course of a season. But I think when it's all said and done this year, he'll have strides in that regard also."
Scioscia said he believes Skaggs' increased changeup usage helped spark his breakout campaign in the first half. Though he has primarily relied on his fastball-curveball combination throughout his career, Skaggs said at the beginning of the season that he wanted to mix in more changeups. He subsequently threw the pitch 12.8 percent of the time this season, up from 8.8 percent in 2017.
"I think that he's really harnessed the ability to change speeds," Scioscia said. "I think his changeup became a real force within his best stuff. He's always had that great breaking ball and his fastball command was terrific. When you put all that together, his stuff was very, very good. I think it translated into a terrific first half of the season."
The Angels will be without two of their most talented starters next season, as Garrett Richards is slated to hit free agency and Shohei Ohtani is expected to undergo Tommy John surgery, but they still have a core of pitching talent in place that can help them overcome those losses.
Skaggs and fellow left-hander Andrew Heaney are projected to headline the Angels' rotation in 2019, with Jaime Barria, Matthew Shoemaker, Nick Tropeano, Felix Pena and Parker Bridwell likely providing the next layer of depth. Prospects Jose Suarez and Griffin Canning also finished the season at Triple-A Salt Lake and will likely be ready to contribute next year.
"There is no ace on this team," Skaggs said. "There's only guys that can consistently come in and make starts. Right now, Andrew is the guy who is consistently make starts. I thought that I could be the guy consistently making starts. Going forward, I feel like with us two, and with some of the younger guys that are coming up, I feel like we're going to be really good."
Ward to play winter ball
Scioscia said rookie third baseman Taylor Ward is slated to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic this offseason. Ward was drafted as a catcher but transitioned to playing third base this year. The 24-year-old prospect can often be spotted getting in early work at third base with Keith Johnson prior to games. Playing winter ball will allow Ward to get even more reps there heading into next season.
"I believe it was his decision," Scioscia said. "He wants to get better."
Strike Out Slavery returns
The Angels hosted the second-annual Strike Out Slavery Day at Angel Stadium on Saturday. Founded by first baseman Jose Pujols and his wife, Deidre, Strike Out Slavery educates thousands of baseball fans about human trafficking through a pregame awareness festival with an alliance of global nonprofits fighting against human trafficking and a postgame concert featuring Nick Jonas. This year, the initiative also partnered with the Nationals and Stephen Strasburg to hold a similar event at Nationals Park in August.