Kelvim Escobar, throwing to Minor League hitters wearing a different uniform for the first time on Monday afternoon in a simulated game, gave the Angels even more cause for optimism.
The big right-hander from Venezuela unleashed fastballs consistently in the 90s, including one that hit 96, while delivering 34 pitches to Cubs batters.
“I can feel the way the ball was coming out of my hand,” Escobar said in the afterglow. “I didn’t feel I was going to throw 96. Maybe 94.
“I’m very happy — even happier with the way I felt. I’ve surprised myself. I’ve tested my arm many times, and it’s feeling good. Now I’m going to stop worrying if it’s going to hurt or pinch and focus on my mechanics.”
The early projection for Escobar’s return to a spot on the Angels’ pitching staff was mid-season, but he has bumped that up by months. His recovery from July 29 shoulder surgery to repair a labrum tear has been stunning.
Before going to the mound to face the Cubbies, Escobar had a long-toss session in the outfield and threw hard in the bullpen. He said pitching coach Mike Butcher told him he unloaded 38 pitches in the bullpen, and he was letting go.
That would have brought him to 72 for the day, and he was still bringing it at the finish.
“Even in the bullpen I had good velocity,” Escobar said. “I was feeling great. Throwing the way I did, that many pitches [in the bullpen and simulated game] is a good sign.”
The stands behind the backstop on one of the Minor League diamonds beyond Tempe Diablo Stadium were packed with red uniforms attached to young Angels, Minor Leaguer dreamers intently watching a Major League star.
“Seeing all the guys got me excited,” Escobar said. “The whole Minor League complex was watching me.”
Escobar used his entire repertoire – four-seam and two-seam fastballs, split-fingered fastballs, breaking balls, changeups.