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OC Register: Tyler Skaggs set to return to Angels, trying to finish on a good note after a frustrating second half

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ANAHEIM — Tyler Skaggs believes he learned a hard lesson this year.

“I tried to be a hero,” Skaggs said Saturday, upon his return to the Angels clubhouse after a three-month battle with a groin injury that ruined what was shaping up to be the best season of his career.

Expected to go back into the rotation sometime next week, Skaggs just wants to finish strong and forget about the frustration that, in retrospect, he feels he brought on himself.

After Skaggs’ start on June 15, just after Shohei Ohtani and Garrett Richards had both gone on the disabled list, Skaggs hurt his right groin while lifting in the weight room. Skaggs, who was clearly the Angels best pitcher and perhaps on track for the All-Star Game at the time, simply took a couple extra days before his start.

“Two starting pitchers went down and I knew for a fact they needed me,” Skaggs said. “I tried to do all I could. Maybe I could have been a little selfish and taken a few weeks to make sure I was completely healthy, but I wanted to be there for my teammates, and in the long run I ended up hurting myself.”

Skaggs came back from the initial injury and pitched twice, only to make it worse. He took the minimum 10 days on the disabled list in early July. He returned and pitched four more times, during which he realized that overcompensating had caused him to hurt the groin on the other side.

He pitched through it and gave up 10 runs on July 31, shooting his ERA from 2.62 to 3.34. After that, he took another 10-day stint on the disabled list, only to return to give up seven runs on Aug. 11.

After that, he shut it down. With the Angels falling out of the race, and leery of hurting his arm as he tried to pitch through the groin issue, Skaggs stopped to get himself right.

Finally.

“I should have went on the DL right there (in June), taken two or three weeks, gotten completely healthy, threw a rehab start and come back,” he said. “I probably wouldn’t be in this position. But the team was in desperate need of some starting pitching. I was throwing the ball great. I figured why not just keeping pushing through? I was still throwing the ball well up until the last few starts.”

In fact, Skaggs was enjoying the best extended stretch of his career.

The first years of his career were marked by arm injuries, including 2014 Tommy John surgery and a shoulder problem during his rehab. When he was healthy in between, he pitched inconsistently, lacking a pitch to go with his fastball and sharp curve.

This season, though, as he’d finally discovered a changeup he could use as a weapon, Skaggs enjoyed the best stretch of his career. He began the season by ripping off a string of 14 starts with a 2.81 ERA before the weight room incident.

“I think that he’s really harnessed the ability to change speeds,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “His changeup became a real force within his best stuff. He always had that great breaking ball and his fastball command was terrific. You put all that together, and his stuff was very good and that translated into a terrific first half of the season.”

Skaggs, a 27-year-old with two years left before free agency, was looking like a solid top-of-the-rotation starter.

He clearly learned about himself as a pitcher, on and off the mound, and now he’s got to figure out how to keep the good and correct the bad.

As far as his training regimen, Skaggs said he thought he was doing everything right, in terms of stretching and preparation. However, he’s now had muscular injuries two years in a row. He missed half of 2017 with a strained oblique.

“I don’t know if I need to change something training-wise or work with the training staff or strength staff,” he said. “I don’t know. I’m at the point now where maybe less is more. I’m doing too much stuff.”

In the short term, Skaggs is just interested in getting back on the mound — perhaps as soon as Tuesday, in Oakland — and refreshing the organization’s memory about how well he was pitching in the first half.

“The season I put together, I don’t want it to end the way it’s going to end,” he said. “I want to show them I’m still he guy. I want to show them that this wasn’t a fluke. I had a great season and I want to finish it.”

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