Tyler Skaggs believes he's a different man heading into his 2014 debut on Saturday night, a matchup against fellow No. 5 starter Dallas Keuchel at Minute Maid Park.
For one, he's throwing harder.
"I can tell coming out of my hand and on the swings," the 22-year-old left-hander said. "It feels like I'm getting over the rubber, and I'm really using my body."
Skaggs, acquired in the three-team deal that sent Mark Trumbo to Arizona, was sitting at 95 mph with his fastball throughout Spring Training, whereas last year he struggled to even reach 90. It's a credit to getting stronger, and simply growing into a body that's still so young. But the biggest difference has been incorporating a longer stride into his delivery.
"Huge," Skaggs said. "If you look at video from last year to this year, it's completely different. For me, I feel like I'm just getting out in front more. I really feel like I'm throwing it through the catcher's body."
Like Skaggs, Keuchel's debut will come after a pretty long layoff. The 26-year-old southpaw last pitched Saturday in San Antonio, and going a week between starts can certainly disrupt a starting pitcher's routine. But Keuchel simply sees it as "a nice little break."
"It's been nice watching the other [starters] go out there and do their job," he said. "At the same time, you kind of get the itch to go out there and do your job, too. I'm definitely getting the itch."
Keuchel, 26, said he felt like a better pitcher this year than in the past. He went 6-10 last season with a 5.15 ERA in 31 games, 22 of them starts.
"This year is more attacking the zone," he said of his pitching mentality. "My first year I was more timid to pitch to contact, even though I'm a contact pitcher. You got to throw everything up there. I could already tell in Spring Training I'm more relaxed. I was nervous every day [my first year in the Majors in 2012]. It was a great time. But it was a blur. Every time I came in the clubhouse there was a lot of pressure. Everybody's watching."
Angels: What's the right balance?
You want to stay calm when things aren't going your way early, but you also want to have a sense of urgency.
So, how do you strike that perfect balance?
The Angels, owners of the fourth-worst April winning percentage the previous two years, began their season with a three-game sweep at the hands of the division-rival Mariners, getting outscored 26-8. And Angels manager Mike Scioscia was asked about the right way to approach a situation like that.
"I've never used the term 'it's early' and 'these games aren't important' or this or that," he said. "Every game you go out there, you want to win. And every game you don't win is a game that you had an opportunity to put on your side of the ledger and you didn't. They count just as much now as they do in September. But the focus on the process is really important right now -- figuring out why we're not getting done, figuring out where you need to make some adjustments, where you need to be patient."
Astros: Fowler, Castro ailing
The Astros could have catcher Jason Castro back in the lineup on Saturday, but chances are they won't have their everyday center fielder.
Dexter Fowler missed Friday's series opener with a stomach virus and didn't even show up to the ballpark. The 28-year-old outfielder spent the night at the hospital, and shortly after Friday's 11-1 loss to the Angels, Astros manager Bo Porter was on his way to see him.
"He's got a stomach bug," Porter said pregame. "I don't know if it was something he ate. It's not cooperating with his body."
Castro, meanwhile, sat out Friday's game after being hit in the right foot by a pitch from Yankees starter Ivan Nova the night before. Castro, sporting a walking boot, said the foot is "about as day to day as you can get," and will play if he wakes up feeling good on Saturday.
• Angels first baseman Albert Pujols remains one RBI from 1,500 in his career. When he gets it, he'll join suspended Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez as one of two active players to reach the milestone. Only 51 players have done it in history.
• The Astros drew seven walks on Friday and have walked a combined 16 times in the last three games. The last time the Astros drew that many walks over a three-game stretch was from Aug. 5-7, 2012.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.