06/16/09 3:59 PM ET
Escobar taking a cautious approach
Right-hander determined not to push himself beyond his limits
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
"Two times I have tried to come back and gone too hard before I was ready," Escobar said. "I cannot do that again. This time I am going to be careful, take my time. I won't rush it, try to force it. There is too much risk to do that.
"When I come back this time, I will be ready. I will feel strong and prepared to help the team in the bullpen."
Escobar began to play catch on Monday and said that he felt no pain in his shoulder, which was repaired by labrum surgery last July in what was a lost 2008 season after his brilliant 18-win campaign in 2007.
He's eligible to come off the disabled list next Monday but did not seem optimistic that he'll be ready.
"I don't think so," he said. "I'm not going to rush it this time and try to do too much. I have the whole season to think about, and it's a long way to go. I don't want to come back too soon again and go through more pain and inflammation. I want to be smart this time."
Escobar, keenly aware of the Angels' needs and wanting to play a prominent role, pushed himself beyond his limits, he now realizes. He was throwing in the mid-90s right before this season in an exhibition game in San Diego and again when he came back in Detroit on June 6, making 92 pitches and allowing two runs across five innings against the Tigers.
That was his first appearance in a Major League game since the October 2007 postseason against Boston. Though he was emotionally sky-high and pitched capably, he realizes, in reflection, it wasn't smart to do more than his shoulder could comfortably handle.
"I thought I was ready for 90 pitches, but I did not have the stamina yet," he said. "I had so much adrenaline and so much desire to come back and start, I went too far. My problems start around 75 pitches. I'm OK up to then, I think.
"I have my career to think about. This is a very important time. I want to pitch longer, and I think I can. I'm 33 -- not young, but not too old. I think I have more years left, and I want to show that."
Escobar is in the final year of his contract, with free agency on the horizon. Ideally, in his mind, he could have elevated his market value immensely by showing that he can be a durable, effective starter again.
But he has toned down his expectations, realizing that he still can be a valuable performer for manager Mike Scioscia out of the bullpen.
"We need to find some continuity in our bullpen, and Kelvim can be an important piece," Scioscia said.
Escobar, who saved 38 games for Toronto in 2002, with 85 strikeouts in 78 innings, realizes that his value on the open market could be just as high as a closer. He saw the deal that fellow Venezuelan Francisco Rodriguez attracted from the Mets.
"I can make an impact doing that," Escobar said. "I know I can be successful late in games. I have the stuff and the mentality to do that.
"With Scot Shields getting [knee] surgery, we need somebody for those late innings with [Brian] Fuentes. I have done that in the past, in Toronto and here, and I know I can be effective as a relief pitcher."
The only question is when he'll be ready to cut loose without fear of aggravating the shoulder.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.