Two years later, Skaggs' injury is 'water under bridge'

Two years later, Skaggs' injury is 'water under bridge'

ANAHEIM -- When Tyler Skaggs thinks about July 31, 2014, in Baltimore, a start that began with four no-hit innings and ended with a torn ulnar collateral ligament, he recalls the high, 94-mph four-seam fastball that zipped past Adam Jones for what became his final strikeout. All of the negatives -- the Tommy John surgery it led to and the near-24-month recovery that followed -- have been tucked away somewhere else.

"Water under the bridge now," Skaggs said late Sunday afternoon, moments after the Angels' crushing, 5-3 loss to the Red Sox. "I only take the positives. I was dealing in that game, and I felt like I was starting to turn the corner. It's kind of what I focus on."

Skaggs pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings on Sunday in his return to Angel Stadium, which marked the two-year anniversary of the game that altered his entire career. He struck out eight and stranded six -- five days after throwing seven scoreless innings at Kauffman Stadium in his first big league start since surgery -- and ended up with a no-decision only because Huston Street gave up five two-out runs in the ninth inning.

"Two years to the day," Skaggs said. "I've come a long way in those two years. I'm bigger, stronger, throwing harder. Maybe it's a blessing in disguise."

Skaggs was barely two weeks removed from his 23rd birthday on the night he was injured. He held the Orioles to only one baserunner, on a leadoff walk, in the first four innings. His stuff, Skaggs said, "was the best it's ever been," and that's probably why his elbow gave out, "because everything I was throwing was just nasty."

Skaggs couldn't feel his fingers on the changeup that struck out Delmon Young in the fifth. His forearm felt as if it was on fire when he struck out the next batter, J.J. Hardy. And when he walked the next batter, Steve Pearce, he didn't even know where the ball was going.

Skaggs motioned for his manager, Mike Scioscia, and trainer Rick Smith.

"He knew right away," Scioscia said. "I think what's vivid is just Tyler's reaction when he called us out. Instantaneously, you knew this was not good."

Garrett Richards didn't know what to think. He found Skaggs in the clubhouse later that night, "And I just remember how down he was." Richards -- drafted the same year, in 2009, and eventually rehabbing a major injury alongside him down the stretch in 2014 -- saw Skaggs in person again on Sunday and noticed a more polished pitcher.

His delivery was quieter, his emotions were controlled.

"I think this injury is something that has given him a better understanding of what makes him work, and when he's not where he wants to be, what can get him back into where he wants to be," Richards said.

"That guy has done every bit of work possible to get back. He worked his [butt] off. He deserves everything he's getting right now. It's been fun to watch him mature into the pitcher that he can possibly be."

Skaggs was making his first regular-season start at Angel Stadium since July 25, 2014, and he felt it from the fans. They told him how happy they were to have him back from the bullpen, shouted encouragement as he jogged to the field.

"I actually saw some Skaggs jerseys," he said. "That's a first for me."

Only six of Skaggs' 97 pitches were changeups. The rest were four-seam fastballs, which reached 96 mph, and devastating, biting curveballs, ranging anywhere from 75-80 mph. The 25-year-old left-hander only really faced trouble in the fifth, with two on and two outs. Then he struck out Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts, then came back out for the sixth, struck out David Ortiz and exited.

"He had a good curveball, and he didn't need any help," said Pedroia, who was nearly ejected for arguing the pitch that struck him out for the third straight time, then hit the game-winning three-run homer in the ninth. "He was pretty good."

Skaggs, a hip-hop aficionado, carefully planned the music that would blare from the Angel Stadium speakers for every inning that he pitched. The first was a song by Future, entitled "Last Breath." Towards the end of the first verse, Future raps: You should've never doubted me/Imma work 'til my last breath.

Alden Gonzalez has covered the Angels for MLB.com since 2012. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.