HOUSTON -- Jered Weaver played catch at Minute Maid Park early Thursday afternoon, and then for the first time since suffering a broken left elbow on April 7, the Angels' ace threw off a mound.
"It was nice to put cleats on again," Weaver said after a 28-pitch, all-fastball bullpen session in which he threw at an estimated 90 percent intensity and felt "really good."
Manager Mike Scioscia said Weaver needs at least four bullpen sessions, coming every other day if he stays pain-free, before venturing out on a rehab assignment. A late May return to the Angels' rotation still seems like a possibility, but Weaver didn't want to put a timeline on his return.
Weaver just knows his left arm no longer hurts, even while following through on pitches off a slope.
"Everything felt good coming through, so I don't think I'm going to be worried about that as we go on," said Weaver, who gave up six runs in 11 innings through his first two starts. "It felt good. No pain turning it over, nothing like that. I thought maybe the glove would give me a little problem coming through real quick, but everything felt good."
Aybar, Downs exit early with injuries
HOUSTON -- Shortstop Erick Aybar and reliever Scott Downs each left Thursday's 6-5 win vs. the Astros with injuries and both are currently day to day.
Aybar, who returned from the disabled list nine days ago after missing three weeks with a bruised left heel, suffered tightness in his right hamstring while trying to leg out a slow roller to second base to lead off the fourth inning. Brendan Harris replaced him in the bottom half.
Downs, meanwhile, hurt his right foot while fielding a sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the eighth, paving the way for Ernesto Frieri, who recorded a five-out save. Downs was in almost the exact situation in a May 1 game in Oakland, suffering an injury to his right side that led to a five-out save for Frieri, making him unavailable for a couple days.
It doesn't appear Aybar will have to go on the disabled list, said manager Mike Scioscia. Downs' foot, the Angels' skipper said, is a little sore.
"We're going to let this thing go a day or two just to see if it's going to set up to where he can pitch," said Scioscia. "If he can, great. If he can't, then obviously we're going to have to consider some things."
Family matters to keep Hanson from Friday start
HOUSTON -- Tommy Hanson continues to deal with family issues and will not make his scheduled start against the White Sox on Friday, manager Mike Scioscia announced after Thursday's 6-5 win over the Astros.
Scioscia did not say who will take Hanson's place in the series opener at U.S. Cellular Field, but there aren't many options.
Jerome Williams, scheduled to start on Saturday, could go on Friday on normal rest because of Monday's off-day, but then the Angels would need someone to take his place on Saturday anyway. Another option could be Barry Enright, but he hasn't pitched more than 2 2/3 innings since April 15.
In Triple-A Salt Lake, only right-hander Orangel Arenas (6.57 ERA in six starts) is on normal rest.
Hanson spent seven days on the bereavement list from April 22-27 while dealing with the sudden death of his stepbrother in Georgia.
Patient Trumbo drawing more walks this season
HOUSTON -- One of few bright spots amid the Angels' slow start has been, once again, Mark Trumbo, who's not only producing his usual power numbers, but he's even drawing a lot more walks.
To go along with a .291/.358/.552 slash line, nine homers and 23 RBIs through his first 33 games, Trumbo has also drawn 14 walks, which is tied for second on the team and puts him on pace for 69 this season. His first two full seasons in the big leagues, he drew a combined 61.
"It'd be awesome to be a guy who's way up there [in walks], but I think some guys are naturally more gifted at that than others, just like anything else," said Trumbo, who walked 36 times in 2012. "If it was a decision that you could easily control, anyone would only swing at strikes. But I always felt like some guys were just born with a little bit better eye, a little better plate discipline. Some guys really have to work at it, and I'm more the latter."
Compared to last year, Trumbo is seeing slightly fewer pitches in the strike zone (47.5 percent to 45.2 percent) while swinging at slightly fewer pitches outside the zone (37.6 percent to 34.4 percent). Getting into more deep counts, however, has also caused him to strike out 39 times heading into Thursday's game, which is one shy of Josh Hamilton for the team lead and tied for eighth most in the American League.
Last year, while the Angels got off to a similarly slow start, Trumbo surged, posting a .309/.361/.625 slash line in his first 81 games before going into a woeful slump for pretty much the remainder of the season.
Asked how he can avoid the rough patches, Trumbo put it simply.
"You can't," he said. "You put in the work you can, you try and keep a good frame of mind and try to avoid the peaks and valleys, try to become a consistent, productive hitter in the lineup wherever you do hit, but you also have to be realistic to know that some times are better than others. Good times don't last forever, and nor do the bad ones."
Facing uphill battle, Halos look to turn things around
HOUSTON -- The Angels have a long uphill climb ahead of them once again, at 11-22 and 9 1/2 games out of first place in the American League West heading into Thursday's series finale against the last-place Astros. In fact, if the Halos complete their climb -- something they were unable to do last season -- they'll be only the fourth team in Major League history to make the playoffs despite losing 22 of their first 33 games.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, these are the only teams to make the playoffs despite a similar start.
• The 1914 Boston Braves, who started the season 10-23, ultimately won the AL pennant with a 94-59 record and beat the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series.
• The 1974 Pirates, who began 11-22, then won the National League East crown with an 88-74 record and lost to the Dodgers in the NL Championship Series.
• The 1981 Royals, in a season that was split into two halves because of a players' strike, started 11-22 and finished the first half 20-30, but went 30-23 in the second half to qualify for the playoffs and lost to the A's in the AL Division Series.
The Angels, of course, have the benefit of two Wild Cards to increase their chances of snapping a three-year playoff drought, but it's been a while since they've had this much ground to make up. The last time they were 11 games under .500 was May 22, 2006. The last time they were 9 1/2 games out of first place this early was '02, when they nonetheless won the World Series. The last time their record was this bad through the first 33 games was 1976.
• Ryan Madson threw 21 pitches in an intrasquad game in Arizona on Thursday, as expected, and will do the same again on Saturday -- perhaps his last time facing hitters before venturing out on a rehab assignment for Class A Inland Empire. Scioscia said Madson's "velocity was great" and his stuff "looked good."
• Trumbo is one of only four players in the Majors to reach base in 32 games already this season. His nine homers, six of which came in his previous nine games, made him the first Angels player to have that many before May 8 since Vladimir Guerrero in 2007.
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.