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Angels' John Lackey may not be ready for opening-day start

Elbow tightness will keep Angels ace Lackey out of an exhibition game. It could mean a reshuffling of the early-season pitching rotation.

March 26, 2009|Mike DiGiovanna

TEMPE, ARIZ. — An Angels camp that has been buoyed by the uplifting story of Kelvim Escobar's remarkable recovery from shoulder surgery was hit by a double dose of bad news Wednesday.

Ace John Lackey was shut down because of elbow tightness, an injury that could jeopardize his opening-day start against Oakland on April 6.

And Torii Hunter was knocked out of Wednesday's 18-11 exhibition victory over Colorado in the first inning when Jeff Baker's long drive hit the wall and caromed into Hunter's nose.

The center fielder, already slowed by a sinus infection, made a leaping attempt for the ball before crashing into the wall and crumpling onto the warning track.

The ball fell for a two-run, inside-the-park home run. Hunter walked off the field and had precautionary X-rays, which were negative.

"He's got a pretty big lump on the side of his nose," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "I thought it was broken. . . . He usually prevents injuries by playing hard. That was a fluke."

Hunter will sit out today's game and was listed as day to day.

Lackey's injury, which flared up Sunday against Kansas City, when he was tagged for seven runs in four innings, is probably the bigger concern. But he did not think it was serious.

"I could have played catch [Wednesday], but they wanted me to wait another day," said Lackey, who opened the 2008 season on the disabled list because of a strained right triceps. "It's a little different than last spring. It's not that bad."

Lackey, who threw 90 pitches against the Royals, did not have an MRI test. He will skip Friday's scheduled start and is not expected to pitch again until next Wednesday, giving him nine days between starts.

How many pitches he throws that day -- and how he feels afterward -- will determine whether he will pitch the season opener.

"I definitely have to get back to 90 pitches," Lackey said. "The original plan was to get to 100 pitches Friday and scale back on April 1. But I won't be able to do that now."

Scioscia said Lackey, who went 12-5 with a 3.75 earned-run average in 24 starts last season, will test the elbow in a bullpen workout before pitching in an exhibition.

"He should have enough to pitch [opening day]," Scioscia said, "but we want to give this thing a chance to calm down a bit."

The Angels will already open the season without one of their best starting pitchers, Ervin Santana, who will probably miss all of April because of a sprained elbow ligament.

If Lackey opens the season on the disabled list, Joe Saunders probably would start opening day and be followed in the rotation by Jered Weaver, Dustin Moseley, Nick Adenhart and Shane Loux.

Scioscia could also give Lackey more time by moving him to the back of the rotation and start him April 10 against Boston.

Walk year?

Contract talks between Lackey and the Angels, which began earlier this month, appear to be on life support.

Lackey is looking for an extension of at least five years for in the neighborhood of $80 million to $90 million, and has set a deadline of opening day for a deal to be complete.

Asked whether his medical setback could affect negotiations, he said, "I've got nothing for you. I'm not going to get into it."

Asked whether the talks were dead, he added, "Not yet. But we don't have much time left."

Short hops

Erick Aybar had four hits, including two triples and a double, Bobby Abreu hit a pair of two-run doubles, and Juan Rivera had two hits and four runs batted in Wednesday for the Angels, who have 56 runs and 64 hits -- including 15 homers -- in their last four games. They have a major league-best 20-4 record. . . . Mike Napoli, relegated to designated hitter while he recovers from shoulder surgery, is expected to catch for the first time this spring Friday against Arizona.

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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