MESA, Ariz. -- The competition for the fifth spot in the Angels' rotation could have very little to do with how the candidates perform and everything to do with how Garrett Richards' rehab progresses.
The key date here is April 14.
An off-day after the season-opening three-game series in Seattle means the Angels won't need a fifth starter until then. And if Richards can be ready by that time, chances are they'll start the season with an eight-man bullpen and send both Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano to the Minor Leagues.
The Angels haven't made that decision yet, though. Richards will have at least three more rehab starts before April 14, but it's no certainty he'll be ready by then.
The Angels will remain cautious.
"This is different than just getting a guy stretched out," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Thursday. "There are things you are introducing to his knee; just the workload that hasn't been introduced yet.
"I just think we want to be flexible with the idea of making sure that his rehab is totally behind him and he's bouncing back from start to start the way he needs to."
If the Angels do open the season with five starters, Heaney and Tropeano remain in the mix, with Drew Rucinski -- 8 2/3 scoreless innings in his last two outings -- an outside candidate to crack the Opening Day rotation if he doesn't make the team as a long reliever.
Lefty Jose Alvarez was stretched out as a starter early in camp, but he's on somewhat of a reliever's schedule now, pitching in a B game on Wednesday and expecting to pitch again on Friday.
"Whatever helps me make the team," Alvarez said.
Richards threw four no-hit innings against Giants Minor Leaguers on Monday, but Scioscia said "he was fatigued in the fourth inning." He'll stretch out to five innings in another Minor League game on Saturday, and the Angels will go from there.
"We're not going to deal with hypotheticals," Scioscia said. "Right now it looks like he can get up five times and we'll see where it is. If we have to repeat it or peel it back, so be it. But you want to keep him every fifth day and hopefully get him where he needs to be."
• The Angels installed humidors for their Triple-A affiliate, the Salt Lake Bees, who play in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. The Bees' stadium, Smith's Ballpark, resides 4,229 feet above sea level. Humidors for baseball storage were part of the most recent renewal agreement, which locked the Bees in as the Angels' top affiliate through 2018.
• David Freese hasn't played since hyperextending his left elbow during a play at third base in Surprise, Ariz., on Tuesday. Freese will take a couple days off to heal, but took ground balls and dry swings on Thursday. Scioscia said his elbow injury is "moving in the right direction."
• Marc Krauss, who hasn't played since Sunday because of back spasms, felt good during batting practice on Thursday morning and hopes to return to the lineup on Friday. Krauss (9-for-18 with five walks) is seemingly competing with fellow left-handed-hitting outfielder and first baseman Efren Navarro for the last bench spot.
"If you're not playing, you're not going to impress anybody," Krauss said. "It's tough. I tried to play through it a couple of days and it was just hindering me too much to where I was not going to do anything good for the team, let alone myself. It's a fine line, but it's just the circumstances I've been dealt. I have to get back out there as soon as I can, but also be smart about it."