ANAHEIM -- In his first eight seasons as a Major League pitcher, Kelvim Escobar made one trip to the disabled list, early in 1998 because of elbow inflammation while he was with the Toronto Blue Jays. He didn't return to the DL again until 2005, when he made three separate appearances related to elbow issues, submitting to midseason surgery to remove a bone chip. Another 15-day interruption last season for elbow irritation furthered Escobar's discontent, giving him a fresh agenda for 2007 as he prepares for his debut on Tuesday night against Texas at Angel Stadium.
"New season, new goals," Escobar said before the Angels opened the season on Monday night against Texas. "The main thing is doing whatever I can to stay healthy. No more DL. "One of my goals is to stay healthy enough to start 33 games and reach 200 innings. If I do that, everything will fall into place." Escobar is amazed, looking back on 2006, he managed to deliver 189 1/3 innings, going 11-14 with a 3.61 ERA in 30 starts. There was lingering pain in his elbow along with a knee ailment and a blood blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand that developed early in the season. "I laugh when people talk about me being hurt all the time," he said. "Every year I get hurt, I come back and pitch. I've pitched in relief, as a starter -- and I went seven, eight years not going on the DL." Signed by the Angels as a free agent before the 2004 season after seven seasons in Toronto, Escobar has gone 25-28 with a 3.68 ERA in 79 appearances for owner Arte Moreno's troupe, 70 made as a starter. He worked this spring on alleviating strain on his elbow and knee by improving the landing in his delivery. He experienced tightness in his back in a late-spring start, but is fully recovered, according to manager Mike Scioscia. "He threw a great bullpen the other day and feels great, ready to go," Scioscia said. Escobar's debut comes against a team that has tormented him in the past. Escobar is 2-8 against the Rangers with a 4.52 ERA. He was 0-3 against Texas last season with a 7.16 ERA in four outings. "Texas has a terrific lineup," Scioscia said. "I don't think Kelvim's the only guy who's had numbers [against the Rangers] that might not reflect as good a pitcher as he is. Sometimes there's a group of hitters who might give a pitcher trouble, but he's pitched good ball against them from time to time." Escobar, a Venezuelan who turns 31 on April 11, would like to give himself and his team an early gift at Texas' expense. "When I'm healthy, I'm capable of doing some things," Escobar said, suggesting he wasn't sound all last season. "I want to get the first one out of the way, have a good one, and move on." Thanks for the memories: Scioscia goes back 26 years to his enduring Opening Day highlight, courtesy of a young Mexican pitcher who became a legend. Fernando Valenzuela and Scioscia were a team within a team. "It's always memorable if you're getting a ring," Scioscia said, having done that as a player for the 1981 and 1988 Dodgers and as manager of the 2002 Angels. "But my most memorable Opening Day is 1981 at Dodger Stadium. "Fernando pitched on short notice because Jerry Reuss pulled a calf muscle the day before. Everyone expected Jerry to pitch, and all of a sudden Fernando jumps in ... and shuts out the Astros. "That was the beginning of 'Fernandomania.'" Valenzuela went on to win his first eight decisions en route to a Cy Young Award. Scioscia -- 22 at the time and in his second season as a Dodgers catcher -- was there through it all, culminating in a World Series triumph. "I knew enough Spanish for basic [communication]," Scioscia said of his relationship with Valenzuela. "I knew a little more Spanish than he did English." Scioscia is 17 wins away from breaking Bill Rigney's franchise record of 625 career victories by a manager. Scioscia's teams have three of the seven 90-plus-win seasons in Angels history, and last year's team won 89. Not looking ahead: Garret Anderson came into his 14th season feeling better than he has since the end of 2003, having endured a nagging left foot ailment -- plantar faciaitis -- last year and what he refers to as "body inflammation" before that. "Every day [last season] I was dealing with my foot," Anderson said. "It's fine now. I still take blood tests every six months [for the inflammation problem], and I haven't had anything at all." Rejuvenated, running freely and swinging with a solid foundation, Anderson tore it up in the Cactus League, hitting .381 with five doubles and two homers in 42 at-bats. He gave the sense he could return to his 29-homer, 116-RBI form of 2003, but he's not, as he put it, "getting ahead of himself" and pondering how much longer he can play the game. "As a young player, you say you'd like to play 10 years," Anderson said. "I've eclipsed that. I look forward to each year, and that's where I am now." Anderson was on the club's roster in 1995, but he didn't play on Opening Day, making his first Opening Day start the following season. He has no lasting memories of that or any other opener, he said. Up next: Escobar faces Texas right-hander Vicente Padilla at 7:05 p.m. PT on Tuesday night at Angel Stadium.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.