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Kelvim Escobar continues to impress for Angels

Right-hander, who wasn't expected back from shoulder surgery until July, is penciled in to pitch in a minor league game Monday.

March 20, 2009|Mike DiGiovanna

TEMPE, ARIZ. — While most of the Angels enjoyed an off day Thursday, the Kelvim Escobar Rehabilitation Project continued to blaze a trail through the team's spring-training complex.

Escobar, who missed all of 2008 because of shoulder surgery and wasn't expected back until July, threw 30 pitches of batting practice to six hitters, and the right-hander looked so good he was penciled in to pitch in a minor league game Monday.

"He looks great," said Mike Butcher, Angels pitching coach. "I'm very happy for him and for us. He's put a lot of hard work into what you saw today. He's fought his way back to where he is now and is several months ahead of where we thought he'd be."

The Angels didn't clock Escobar's fastball, but the veteran right-hander, who went 18-7 with a 3.40 earned run average in 2007, was convinced he was throwing "90-plus mph." He also threw his split-fingered fastball and some changeups.

The only hit he gave up was a home run by Hank Conger on a split-fingered Escobar told Conger was coming.

"I'm so close to pitching in a game that I really got after it today, throwing the ball hard and down in the zone," Escobar, 32, said. "My mechanics are a bit rusty because I've been out so long, but my velocity is there, my off-speed pitches are there. I can feel the life when the ball comes out of my hand."

Escobar is experiencing what he called "normal spring training soreness, but nothing like before -- no pinching," he said. "I feel strong. Before surgery, I didn't know what was going to happen. To feel this good has been great."

Escobar will make several minor league starts, so the Angels can control the number of pitches he throws per inning. If Escobar pitches in a Cactus League game this month, it would increase the chances of him opening the season on a minor league rehabilitation assignment instead of in extended spring training.

"I would love to see him in a game here before we break camp," Butcher said. "He's worked himself into a position where that can happen."

Short hops

Joe Saunders gave up one earned run and five hits, struck out two and walked one in five innings of a minor league game against a team of Oakland Class-A players. Saunders threw 70 pitches, 41 for strikes, and said the shoulder tightness that bothered him early in spring "is behind me, knock on wood." . . . Reliever Jose Arredondo threw a pair of one-two-three innings in a Class-A game against the A's. . . . Conger, the Angels' first-round pick in 2005, is scheduled to catch today for the first time in almost a year. The former Huntington Beach High star was limited to designated hitter for most of 2008 because of a shoulder injury.


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