TEMPE, Ariz. -- Three weeks after straining his left oblique pitching against the Brewers in a Cactus League game, Angels middle reliever Chris Bootcheck was back on a mound on Monday, cutting loose.
"I was throwing everything I've got, about 30 pitches," Bootcheck said. "That's the sharpest my breaking ball has been in a while. I was keeping my front side closed. Everything's short, compact, clean.
"In a strange way, it might have been a blessing. I'm more conscious of what my front side's doing now. Every pitcher has tendencies, and one of mine is to fly open with my front side, being too quick. What I was doing today felt really good. I'm pumped about it."
Bootcheck's return has been unusually swift. Oblique strains have been known to sideline athletes for months, not weeks. He was back throwing less than two weeks after feeling the pain in his side, from 60 feet to 90 to 120, then back to 60 to get the mechanics fine-tuned.
The go-ahead to return to the mound was met with excitement, then relief when everything went as well as he could have imagined. He isn't sure when he'll be back on the mound but was told it could happen on Tuesday, if he recovers well.
It remains doubtful Bootcheck will be cleared to join the pitching staff by Opening Day on Monday in Minnesota, but he's optimistic he'll be in his familiar role soon.
Bootcheck, 29, was 3-3 with a 4.77 ERA in 51 appearances in 2007. His 77 1/3 innings were the most among Angels relievers and all American League rookie relievers.
With Scot Shields also doubtful for Opening Day and long man Dustin Moseley a candidate to start, the Angels figure to start the season with several new faces in the bullpen. Strong spring showings by Rich Thompson, Darren O'Day, Jason Bulger and Alex Serrano have provided manager Mike Scioscia with some quality candidates from which to choose.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.