There are good reasons for the Angels to feel something other than panic at a situation that might be devastating for another club. One, both pitchers in question, Bartolo Colon and Jered Weaver, are making strides toward rejoining the rotation. Two, the Angels are not short on suitable replacements. They will obviously be better off with Colon and Weaver pitching regularly and at full health, but over the short term, they do not need to fall off the face of the Earth because these two are unavailable.
Manager Mike Scioscia, who has been peppered with the necessary, if repetitive rotation questions on a regular basis during Spring Training, delivered his own sort of commentary on this issue Wednesday. He said he was finally ready to announce his regular-season rotation.
"All right guys," the manager said, "I'm only going to say this once, our rotation is ..."
And then Scioscia proceeded to begin chewing on a nutrition bar. Speaking while chewing, his announcement was unintelligible, and, just as he had intended, hilarious.
Moments later, Scioscia delivered the actual news without chewing. John Lackey will draw the Opening Day assignment, followed by Kelvim Escobar, Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders. The fifth spot will be either Dustin Moseley or Hector Carrasco, to be determined at a later date.
"Jered Weaver will start on the disabled list," Scioscia said. "Looking at his time frame, he will certainly miss his first start, but can be folded in shortly after that. Probably the date looks like [April] 15 or 16. That's what we're looking at right now. If he progresses ahead of that, great. Bart, his progression will be a little behind that, but not much behind it."
Weaver is coming back from a bout of biceps tendinitis. Colon has been rehabbing from a partial thickness tear of the rotator cuff. Colon demonstrated Wednesday that progress has been made, throwing a 45-pitch, live batting practice session. When Colon takes his cap off his hairdo still says Harpo Marx, but he remains, even in recovery mode, a harder thrower than Harpo, not to mention a somewhat more expansive body type. On Wednesday, Colon appeared to be throwing without distress and with effectiveness.
"He threw fastballs and changeups," pitching coach Mike Butcher said. "The changeup had good depth to it and the fastball had some good life."
There was no radar gun on this session, but Butcher said he believed that Colon was approaching the 90-mph mark with his fastball. If Colon feels all right Thursday, his next work would be a 60-pitch outing in either another batting practice or a simulated game, Butcher said. If progress continues to be made, a game appearance for Colon would be seven to 14 days from now.
So the Angels have reason for optimism on this front. But even without Colon and Weaver, for a time, the Angels are not exactly in desperate shape. Scioscia touched on that when discussing the choice of Lackey as the Opening Day starter.
"Yes, he has [earned it]," Scioscia said. "John has started on Opening Day before. But I think we have a lot of candidates who are capable. I think that Ervin could take it. I think that Kelvim could take it. Joe Saunders would be fine. John was where he needed to be coming into camp. John's been on the pace he needs to be.
"It's a nice honor for him to have, but the whole staff knows, and we talked to the whole staff this morning, that our rotation is a five-part machine. It needs to keep chugging the whole season to get us to our bullpen."
That bullpen remains a strength. Among the available starters, Lackey went 27-16 over the last two seasons and has clearly established himself. Escobar was 11-14 last season, but his 3.61 earned run average was a better indicator of the quality of his work. Santana was 16-8 in his first full season as a Major League starter. Saunders was 7-3 over 13 starts in the second half of the season. There are clubs with completely healthy rotations that can't measure up to this quartet.
Add Weaver and Colon to this mix, assume eventual good health, and you have a very impressive rotation. Weaver was a revelation last season, going 11-2 with a 2.56 ERA in 19 starts. Colon made only 10 starts last season, but in the eight previous seasons he averaged 17 victories per year. His days as one of the premier innings-eaters in the game may have come to an end, but the Angels can reasonably hope that his effectiveness can resume.
So the Angels will begin the 2007 season not at full pitching strength, but still at reasonable pitching strength, with valid reasons to believe that their pitching will improve, one way or the other. Relative to the pitching situation in the rest of baseball, no, the Angels do not have to be despondent. In fact, cautious optimism is probably a much better fit.