Skaggs sets out to 're-make' Angels
Left-hander expects innings limit following surgery
ANAHEIM -- The most trying season of Tyler Skaggs' career is over. The Angels' young starter spent all of 2015 recovering from Tommy John surgery, a procedure he underwent way back on Aug. 13, 2014. Now he can look forward to a normal offseason, one that should have him ready to pitch by the time Spring Training begins.
"Finally," Skaggs said in a phone conversation. "I'm excited for next year. I have to re-make the team all over again, man. It's just like I got traded back over. I have to work hard and pitch well."
Skaggs finished the year by testing his arm during the club's instructional league in Arizona. Every week for basically an entire month, the 24-year-old left-hander adhered to this stringent routine: 70-pitch bullpen session on Monday, 90-pitch bullpen session on Wednesday, 90-pitch bullpen session on Friday and a light game of catch on Saturday.
Skaggs didn't throw any curveballs off the mound, but he spun a few off flat ground. He limited his bullpen work to four-seam fastballs, sinkers and changeups, and he didn't throw them at any more than a 90-percent intensity level.
By the final week, Skaggs was throwing his fastball in the mid-80s without approaching max effort.
His arm, he said, "feels great."
Skaggs will start throwing again in early December, a couple of weeks earlier than normal. He wants to get to Spring Training early; he wants to make sure he's on the same schedule as every other pitcher when camp opens up around the middle of February.
Skaggs expects to have an innings limit when the season begins, though he doesn't know what that number will be.
"I haven't even gotten to that yet," he said, "but I know we will. Even before coming into Spring Training, I'll know how many innings I'll have to pitch."
Torn UCLs have become an epidemic throughout baseball, with young pitchers throwing harder and more frequently than ever. Skaggs joins the likes of Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, Matt Moore, Patrick Corbin, Jose Fernandez, Daniel Hudson, A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker as up-and-coming starters who have undergone Tommy John surgery since the start of 2013.
The procedure is an overall success, especially when performed on young pitchers given ample time to recover -- but there are exceptions.
Parker and Griffin missed all of the last two A's seasons because of complications in their recoveries, with Parker undergoing a second Tommy John surgery and an ensuing elbow procedure. Hudson also needed a second Tommy John surgery and ultimately came back as a reliever. And Moore struggled in a midseason return with the Rays, posting an 8.78 ERA in his first six starts before getting optioned to the Minor Leagues.
But Moore came back up in early September and finished the season on a high note, with a 2.97 ERA across his final six starts. Fernandez finished with a 2.92 ERA in 11 starts for the Marlins, though he missed about five weeks with a biceps strain. Corbin, Skaggs' good friend, had a 3.60 ERA in 16 starts for the D-backs.
And then there's Harvey, the Mets' phenom, who scrapped his initial innings limit, pitched exceptionally well in all three postseason rounds and finished his first season back with a 2.75 ERA in 216 innings.
Skaggs watched Harvey dominate through the first eight innings of Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday night, before giving up the lead to the champion Royals in the ninth.
"He looked great; he really did," Skaggs said. "There's nothing that he can't do. Every pitcher is different, every organization is different. Clearly they kind of let him go. But then again, if you make the World Series, it is what it is. I feel like if you have that one chance, you have to go out and do it."
Skaggs' next Major League start, whenever that is, will come at least 20 months after his last one. The timing of his surgery has given him a far lengthier recovery time than any of the aforementioned pitchers, all of whom came back within 13 or 15 months.
Whatever the innings limit becomes, Skaggs doesn't expect it to be set in stone.
"You know what, a number is a number," said Skaggs, who posted a 4.30 ERA in 18 starts before tearing his UCL on July 31, 2014. "I just think you go out and try to throw as many innings a start as you can."