ANAHEIM -- Three injured Angels, two of whom have been out for an extended time, are very close to returning to the roster.
Starter Dan Haren, who has been out only since July 4 with lower back stiffness, threw a bullpen session on Friday, and as long as he comes out of it without any problems, will start on Sunday, manager Mike Scioscia said.
Haren (6-8) gave up no less than four runs in five straight starts before landing on the disabled list (26 runs in 27 innings), raising his ERA from 3.52 to 4.86.
Though Haren's velocity has been down a mile or two since last year, Scioscia said it isn't a problem for the right-hander. His fastball being around 89-90 is fine to complement his off-speed stuff. It's just that his back was throwing off his control.
"At times he's shown that velocity with us, but he's had to create a little more because of the back stiffness that threw his command off," Scioscia said. "And to create more velocity, at times that ball's going to get elevated. So Dan needs that easy velocity, where it's in your delivery and you're just executing your pitch."
Injured Angels who have been out for a much longer period, catcher Chris Iannetta and outfielder Vernon Wells, will be starting rehab assignments at Triple-A Salt Lake this weekend.
Iannetta, who has been on the DL since May 10 while recovering from wrist surgery, is going to start his rehab on Saturday. He was close to a rehab assignment a few weeks ago after his wrist healed, but had problems with his forearm that caused the delay. The catcher will be in the Minors for "the better part of a week," Scioscia said.
Wells, who has been out since May 21 with a broken right thumb, made his first rehab appearance on Friday night. He started in left field, batted second and went 1-for-3 with a double.
The Angels estimated that it would take about seven to 10 days in the Minors for him to be ready.
"There's no doubt that there's going to be a little stiffness in the first couple days that he's going to have to work through after being out for so long," Scioscia said. "Then we'll evaluate him and see where he is next week."
The 33-year-old Wells will be coming back to an outfield that includes two All-Stars in Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo, as well as Torii Hunter, who is hitting .310 with five homers and 24 RBIs in his last 33 games.
Scioscia must decide: Williams or Richards?
ANAHEIM -- In the next few days, the Angels will have to decide whether it's Garrett Richards or Jerome Williams who remains in the rotation.
No, this is not a repeat.
Yes, this situation presented itself before, when Richards came up in late May and pitched brilliantly while Jered Weaver was on the disabled list. But eventually it resolved itself. Williams was placed on the DL with an asthma attack shortly after Weaver got healthy, Richards struggled in his extended tryout and Williams got his rotation spot back upon returning.
Now, with Dan Haren likely getting activated for Sunday's series finale, the Angels find themselves in a similar predicament for Tuesday.
Do they give the ball to Williams, who is out of options but has gone 0-5 with a 7.53 ERA over his last five starts?
Do they go with the young Richards, who bounced back from recent struggles with seven shutout innings in Tuesday's blowout against the Tigers?
(Or will they have acquired a new starting pitcher by that point?)
"We'll have a decision on who's going to start on Tuesday," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "But moving forward, if we have good arms, whether they're in our rotation or in our 'pen, you want to keep them. Whatever decision we make, it's good to have two arms like Jerome and Garrett up here that can help you to create a little bit of depth, both in your rotation and your bullpen."
Scioscia has said in the past that he'd prefer that the 24-year-old Richards continue to start, be it in the big leagues or in Triple-A. If he sticks with that plan, and wants to keep both on the roster, then it'd be Williams going to the bullpen, where he's made 10 of his 101 career appearances in the Majors.
Putting the 30-year-old Williams on waivers this time of year would almost guarantee that they'd lose him.
Richards, 3-1 with a 3.53 ERA in 43 1/3 big league innings, has the better stuff and the bigger upside. The argument in favor of Williams has always been his steady presence, but he's been far from that lately.
On Thursday, after giving up five runs in six innings during a loss against the Tigers, Williams was asked about the ongoing uncertainty surrounding his spot in the rotation.
"I'm not worried about that," he said. "All I'm worried about is trying to go out there and perform as best as I can. Whatever happens, happens. My job is to go out there and put up zeroes and keep the guys in the hunt for a win. That's all I'm worried about."
Angels have been keeping an eye on Rangers
ANAHEIM -- In June, the Angels went eight games above .500, posting a 17-9 record.
Yet during the month, they actually lost ground to the American League West-leading Rangers, going from 4 1/2 games back to 5 1/2.
The Angels currently sit six games behind the Rangers and have split the six games played against their division rivals so far this season. They have 13 meetings remaining, however, including a three-game series this weekend at Angel Stadium.
It's not necessarily frustrating to not have gained ground on the Rangers, who own the second-best record in all of baseball this season at 55-36, Torii Hunter said. It's just a matter of two teams, who just so happen to be in the same division, both playing tremendous baseball.
"We're just trying to take the crown away form those guys. They're the champs," Hunter said. "All we can do is focus on what we can focus on, and that's the task at hand and winning games. Those guys are doing the same thing. They're looking back at us as much as we're looking up at them."
Though players can't afford to dwell on how far behind in the standings they are, Hunter and Mark Trumbo said, catching a glimpse of where the Angels stand is unavoidable. They're plastered everywhere on television, on the web and on the scoreboards in the ballparks.
"I look at the scores. You know what's going on," Hunter said. "When somebody tells you, 'We don't pay attention to it,' they're lying. I'm human."
With a team as strong as the Rangers are, Trumbo said to be constantly worried about how far back your team is could be discouraging.
There are two Wild Card teams in each league starting this year, but they must win a one-game playoff to advance to the division series, so it puts a premium on winning the division, Trumbo said.
"It's pretty much a no-brainer that if your season comes down to one game, it's very challenging," Trumbo said. "I mean, we'd relish the opportunity, but it'd be a lot easier to win the division."
Jordan Walden (right biceps strain) will be examined by Lewis Yocum, the Angels' team orthopedist, on Saturday, in hopes of being cleared to resume throwing.
Prospect catcher Hank Conger has been lighting it up offensively in Triple-A, posting a .325/.376/.461 slash line, but hasn't been called up to the Majors despite Iannetta's prolonged stint on the disabled list. It's clear Scioscia isn't comfortable with where Conger is at defensively yet.
Asked about Conger remaining in the Minors, Scioscia said: "I'm sure at some point he's going to push through that door and get himself into the big leagues. There are some things that are still a work in progress with Hank, and he's going to work hard at it."
Scioscia said he'd consider sticking with three catchers when Iannetta returns. The Angels currently have Bobby Wilson (out of options) and John Hester (able to be sent down to the Minors) on the roster.
Trout scored a run in his 12th consecutive game on Friday, which is one shy of the club record set by Jim Edmonds in 1995. According to STATS LLC, Trout's streak is currently tied for the third longest by any rookie in American League history. Jake Powell (Washington Senators, 1935) and Don Lenhardt (Browns, 1950) lead with 13 straight.
Albert Pujols fouled a couple of balls off his left foot in recent days, playing a part in the decision to make him the designated hitter on Thursday. But he was back at first base for Friday's series opener against the Rangers.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. Joe McIntyre is an associate reporter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.