KANSAS CITY -- Debbie Skaggs, a high school softball coach going on three decades, could tell her son was eager as soon he took the mound on Tuesday, for his first Major League game in nearly two years. She noted how his right shoulder was flying open, how his delivery
KANSAS CITY -- Debbie Skaggs, a high school softball coach going on three decades, could tell her son was eager as soon he took the mound on Tuesday, for his first Major League game in nearly two years. She noted how his right shoulder was flying open, how his delivery was speeding up, how his body wasn't staying over the rubber quite long enough.
Later, Tyler Skaggs confirmed it himself after delivering seven shutout innings in the Angels' 13-0 win over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
"Everything just felt really fast in that first at-bat," he said, "and after that it started to slow down."
Skaggs walked Alcides Escobar on four straight pitches -- all fastballs, none of which traveled slower than 92.8 mph -- and didn't issue another walk the rest of the night. The 25-year-old left-hander was solid in his return from Tommy John surgery in August 2014, scattering only three hits and striking out five.
It was as if Skaggs had never left.
"A fun game for me," Skaggs said. "It went a lot better than I expected, to say the least."
Skaggs worked mostly with a 93- to 94-mph four-seam fastball and a sweeping curve, a pitch he used to register a couple of first-inning strikeouts. He put only two runners in scoring position, required 88 pitches to record 21 outs, and, perhaps most importantly, he provided some semblance of hope to an organization that has been decimated by the debilitating injuries of three young starting pitchers.
"We have great expectations for him," said manager Mike Scioscia, who has seen Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano all sustain damaged ulnar collateral ligaments this season. "He's an important part of what we're trying to do. We expected to have him maybe a little bit earlier, but he's ready now, and we're happy to have him in our rotation."
Former scouting director Eddie Bane took Skaggs with the 40th overall pick in the 2009 Draft, just before drafting Richards and shortly after selecting Mike Trout and Randal Grichuk. Former general manager Jerry Dipoto went on to acquire Skaggs as the centerpiece of two trades in the ensuing years, the latter bringing Skaggs back to his Southern California roots for the 2014 season.
Skaggs won a job in the rotation that spring, even though he was only 22, and as the summer went on, Scioscia saw him come into his own, all of it culminating with four perfect innings in Baltimore on July 31, 2014, just before Skaggs' UCL finally gave out.
"He was on that learning curve," Scioscia said, "and then he got derailed."
Skaggs spent the rest of 2014 and all of '15 building himself back up. He arrived at Spring Training fully healthy, poised to rejoin the rotation at some point in April. By that point, he had stopped lifting both of his hands atop his head during his windup, a motion stepfather Dan Ramos said Skaggs has utilized since he was 8 years old.
But then Skaggs' shoulder began to bark, and he went more than two months between pitching in Minor League games, a circumstance that prompted him to return to his old delivery.
Through it all, Debbie said, "he just stayed in the present."
"You know what," she added, "he's an inspiration. The hard work that he's put in -- I'm so proud of where he was then and where he is now. He never gave up, never quit. He always knew that he would get back here. He just said, 'I'm going to get there. It's going to take time, but I'm going to get there.'"
The process began again on June 27, when Skaggs finally re-started his rehab assignment at the Class A Advanced level. He looked progressively more comfortable every five days, then dominated in back-to-back Triple-A starts right before getting called back up, striking out 26 over the course of 12 2/3 scoreless innings.
"I had a few setbacks, a lot of trials and tribulations," Skaggs said, "but I think it's made me stronger mentally."
Debbie and Dan met up with Skaggs at the team hotel at around 2 p.m. CT on Tuesday, about five hours before he would step on a Major League mound again, and they couldn't believe how calm he seemed. He asked if they would accompany him to the local Starbucks for his daily drink -- four shots of espresso over ice, which he'll consume only after they all melt.
They then stopped at a Cole Haan store in Kansas City's Country Club Plaza and Skaggs bought a couple of dress shoes, then hopped on the bus and went to the field.
"Totally chill," Debbie said.
Skaggs ended the first inning by getting Kendrys Morales looking on a down-the-middle breaking ball, which he said was his favorite moment of the night. When the Royals strung together back-to-back two-out hits in the third, Skaggs got Eric Hosmer to fly out. Skaggs gave up a clean single to Paulo Orlando in the fifth, then retired the next eight batters, made eye contact with Scioscia as he finished the seventh and knew he was finished.
"He just had that look," Skaggs said, "and I know that look."
Two scuffed baseballs sat atop some shoes in Skaggs' locker after the game, his only mementos from the end of his long road back from recovery. He talked about how excited he was to start Sunday's game, the two-year anniversary of his previous one, and he talked about moving on.
"Now," Skaggs said, "I start getting into a routine. I want to solidify myself and show everybody that I'm back. It's taken long enough."
Alden Gonzalez has covered the Angels for MLB.com since 2012. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.