Angels first baseman Kendrys Morales flips a cap back into the stands after… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)
Reporting from Tempe, Ariz. -- Kendrys Morales took some significant strides toward playing in a game for the first time in nearly two years Sunday when he ran the bases in spikes during a morning workout before the Angels' 17-2 spring training victory over the Cleveland Indians.
"He looks like he could be seeing action by the middle of [this week]," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said.
When someone asked Scioscia if Morales was capable of starting the regular season with the team, the manager said, "Absolutely."
Morales, a switch-hitting first baseman who in 2009 batted .306 with 34 home runs and 108 runs batted in, broke his left ankle on May 29, 2010, when he jumped on home plate while celebrating a walk-off home run.
He underwent a second operation in 2011, when doctors cleaned out debris and performed a bone graft.
If he can return this season, the Angels plan to play Morales primarily at designated hitter with Albert Pujols at first base and Mark Trumbo at third.
"I didn't feel anything at all, wasn't scared doing it or anything," Morales said in Spanish to mlb.com. "We're gradually moving step by step. I got to that point already, and now I'm thinking that soon I'll be in games."
Scioscia viewed a videotape of Morales' baserunning.
"He ran very well," Scioscia said. "He'll repeat that, and then we'll see how he comes out of it.
"His gait is much better, his legs just need to get used to running, there's some stiffness he'll need to work out."
The manager cautioned, "There's still hurdles. You can't simulate adrenaline, secondary leads. It was his left foot [injured], though, so the right foot should be fine. The quick twitch, things you can only see in playing, is what we'll watch to get a guide."
A next-day evaluation of the ankle and Morales' hamstring will be followed Monday by "getting him on the bases a couple more times," and Scioscia said it's possible Morales' return to the field would come Thursday when minor league games begin.
"The confidence grows each time he goes out there," Scioscia said.
Garrett Richards navigated three shutout innings Sunday, a nod to his comfort with a new delivery, altered to stop past pitch tipping.
Richards said pitching coach Mike Butcher first pointed out that the 23-year-old right-hander was tipping pitches by turning his glove during an ugly loss last Aug. 10 in his major league debut at Yankee Stadium.
"I'm working on a clean, consistent, repeatable delivery," Richards said.
Eight of the nine outs he recorded Sunday came on ground balls, keeping Richards strongly positioned to fill the No. 5 spot in the rotation should Jerome Williams be too slow to recover from a hamstring injury.
Another No. 5 candidate, Brad Mills, gave up one hit and struck out three in three innings in a 5-4 split-squad loss to the Cincinnati Reds in Goodyear, Ariz.
Backup catcher Bobby Wilson said he could play Wednesday after leaving Saturday's game early because of tightness in his left quadriceps muscle.
"I fouled a ball off it Monday, that could've caused it," Wilson said. "It's just a mild strain."
Hawkins' critic weighs in
Shoulder problems limited veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins to three appearances in the previous three spring trainings.
Turns out he missed some unexpected constructive criticism.
After working the fourth inning Saturday, Hawkins felt not only the sting of giving up three runs and four hits, but the biting assessment of his 10-year-old daughter who attended the game.
"She was . . . distraught, telling my wife, 'Tell Daddy to get the ball down,'" Hawkins said. "She's already got an idea of what I should be doing."