LOS ANGELES -- The way Kelvim Escobar has it figured, he should be ready to go -- all business, as usual -- as a hammer in the Angels' rotation when he's eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list on June 4. Escobar cleared a hurdle on Saturday morning when he woke up with no shoulder pain -- "just the normal soreness after pitching." He'd pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings in Lake Elsinore for high Class A Rancho Cucamonga on Friday night. Escobar struck out four men while yielding one hit and one walk, hitting one batter on the foot with an 0-2 sinker that "had too much movement," as he put it.
Escobar said he's eager to come back as a starter but would be willing to work in relief if necessary."I'll do whatever they need," he said. "But if I get ready to be a starter and feel good, I want to come back as a starter." That's been the plan all along, Angels manager Mike Scioscia reiterated. "Last night he had A's across the board," Scioscia said. "The last pitch he threw was 94. We're very optimistic he's going to be pitching for us in some capacity in the near future. Our goal is to get him enough pitches to be a starter. Last night was a huge step." So was the morning after, in relation to how the shoulder -- repaired by labrum surgery on July 29 -- responded following his April 3 start in San Diego. "This was much different, much better," Escobar said. "I'm very excited. In San Diego after I pitched, I was achy, deep in the shoulder. Now it's the normal soreness after pitching. "That's a real good sign. I threw everything I have, 60 pitches, and I was consistently 94, 95 on the gun -- 94 most of the time. I had good movement and command, too. "I'll have two more starts, one in Rancho probably on Wednesday, then maybe in [Triple-A] Salt Lake, and that should get me to 90 pitches. If I can get to 90, I should be ready to start." Escobar didn't pitch in 2008, but he had few peers in 2007 when he was 18-7 with a 3.40 ERA. He was in the Cy Young Award conversations along with John Lackey before inflammation surfaced in his shoulder in September, taking him out of the running. "That was my best season ever," Escobar said. "I was close to as good in 2004 and 2006 but I didn't have as much run support, so I didn't win as many games. But my ERA and innings and punchouts were about the same." Escobar, who will be a free agent next winter, said he has been given indications from management that he's ticketed for the rotation if he shows he has the stamina to get deep enough in games. "I've pitched in the bullpen before, and I could do that, but I think my value is highest as a starter," he said. "I can use all my pitches as a starter. In the bullpen, you only need two or three." Escobar has five or six pitches in his repertoire, a bag as deep as any in the game. He can't wait to dip into it for real in a Major League ballpark next month. "I'm very confident I can be as good as ever," he said. "I've been through a lot in the past year, from the panic that my career was over to the surgery and the rehab. Now it's close. I'm very excited."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.