August 08, 2014

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Tyler Skaggs will pitch at Angel Stadium for the first time in two years Sunday when the Los Angeles Angels and the Boston Red Sox conclude their three-game series.

The left-hander, who turned 25 on July 13, returned to major-league action Tuesday night in Kansas City after spending the past two years recuperating from Tommy John surgery. In his start against the Royals, Skaggs conceded just three hits and one walk in seven shutout innings while collecting five strikeouts in the Angels' 13-0 romp. Skaggs threw 63 of his 88 pitches for strikes.

"It went a lot better than I expected, to say the least," Skaggs told afterward. "Everything just felt really fast in that first at-bat and after that, it started to slow down. It was a fun game for me."

The left-hander last pitched in Anaheim on July 25, 2014, when he struck out five in 5 2/3 innings while allowing runs on five hits and a walk against the Detroit Tigers. In his next start six days later, Skaggs amassed seven strikeouts and issued no walks during 4 2/3 no-hit innings in Baltimore but left after throwing 72 pitches. Skaggs underwent ligament-transfer surgery 13 days later.

Skaggs began this season with Triple-A Salt Lake but after his first three starts, biceps tendinitis kept him from pitching for two months. Skaggs returned to minor-league action June 22 with a rehabilitation assignment with the Angels' rookie-league team in Arizona before returning to Salt Lake on July 2.

In his final two minor-league starts, Skaggs held opponents to just two hits and three walks in 12 2/3 shutout innings while accumulating 26 strikeouts. Fourteen came against Triple-A Omaha to tie the Bees' team record set by Jered Weaver.

The left-hander will play a pivotal role in the starting rotation for the rest of this season and well into the next, at least. Injuries stripped the Angels of starters Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, C.J. Wilson and Nick Tropeano. Heaney already had Tommy John surgery but Tropeano and Richards seek to avoid it.

"We have great expectations for him," manager Mike Scioscia told in reference to Skaggs. "He's an important part of what we're trying to do. We expected to have him maybe a little bit earlier. But he's ready now, and we're happy to have him."

Opposing Skaggs will be 31-year-old knuckleballer Steven Wright, who is having the best season of his career. The right-hander, an American League All-Star for the first time, already has career bests in victories (12), complete games (3), starts (20), strikeouts (109) and innings (132 2/3).

Wright anticipated being one of the bullpen's spare parts before left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez suffered a knee injury that forced a quick change in plans.

"I was going to be a long guy, spot starter," the knuckleball specialist told the Boston Globe. "I knew my role in spring training. They made it clear. That's what I prepared for. I knew there was a chance I'd get starts. I didn't think I'd be in the rotation. Unfortunately, Eddie got hurt but it opened up a door for me."

But Wright had perhaps his worst start of the season in his last appearance Tuesday night against the Tigers in Fenway Park. The right-hander allowed eight earned runs on nine hits and three walks in 4 2/3 innings yet received no decision in Boston's 9-8 defeat. Before that game, Wright won his previous four starts.

"This is a tough loss for me because I feel like if you can get eight runs, you should get the team a win," Wright told afterward. "You can't keep asking the offense to score eight, nine runs every night. That's tough to do for any team."

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