Angels starter Jered Weaver works against the Twins the start after his… (Hannah Foslien / Getty Images )
Jered Weaver extended his long-toss sessions to nearly 300 feet Wednesday and could resume throwing off a mound early next week, a strong indication the Angels ace could return from a lower-back strain soon after he is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list June 15.
"Some people are quick healers, I guess," said Weaver, who was injured in the first inning of a May 28 game against the New York Yankees. "I don't want to take any more time than I need."
A quick return for Weaver might give Garrett Richards only one more start to prove he deserves to remain in the rotation over struggling right-hander Ervin Santana, who is 2-7 with a 5.33 earned-run average and has given up a major league-high 16 home runs.
There was already speculation after Richards gave up one run and four hits in seven innings of Tuesday night's win that the 24-year-old right-hander with the 95-mph fastball could remain in the rotation and push Santana to the bullpen when Weaver returns.
"Of course I'm here to help the team win," Richards said after his first big league win. "But I also want to show them what I can do."
Santana, who has walked 14 in 142/3 innings of his last three starts, could work out his command issues as a reliever, his fastball might gain some velocity in shorter stints, and his lack of a go-to third pitch might not be an issue.
But Santana has also been a rotation mainstay for seven years, and it's going to take more than a three-start slump for him to lose that spot. Manager Mike Scioscia said Santana would not go to the bullpen when Weaver returns.
"We're not contemplating anything like that," Scioscia said. "It's great to have that depth in the rotation, it's great to see what Garrett did. But Ervin is a guy we're counting very heavily on, and we have a lot of confidence he's going to pitch more to his ability than we've seen in his last three starts."
Scioscia said he hoped to play Kendrys Morales at first base and Albert Pujols at third base for "at least two" of six interleague games at Colorado this weekend and at Dodger Stadium next week. The moves would allow the Angels to keep their third and fourth hitters in the lineup in National League parks.
Morales, who returned this season after sitting out 11/2 years because of a broken left ankle, has been taking grounders at first base for several weeks. Pujols has a .931 career fielding percentage in 104 games at third base and played seven games there for St. Louis last season, committing three errors.
Catcher Chris Iannetta, on the DL since May 10 because of a fractured right wrist, will throw to the bases Thursday, his final hurdle before beginning a rehabilitation assignment this weekend at double-A Arkansas.
Reliever LaTroy Hawkins, on the DL since May 7 because of a broken right pinkie, will make his third rehab appearance, for triple-A Salt Lake on Thursday night. Barring a setback, he will be activated this weekend.
Among the Angels picks on the final day of the draft Wednesday was Kenny Hatcher, a pitcher from Dallas Baptist University taken in the 36th round. He is the nephew of former hitting coach Mickey Hatcher. Of the 38 players picked by the Angels, 33 were from college, five from high school and none from California.