ANAHEIM -- Angels relievers Scott Downs and Jordan Walden took recent steps in their return from injuries -- one went forward, the other went backward.
On Sunday morning, Downs threw off a mound for the first time since landing on the disabled list with a strained left shoulder on July 31, a progression that could have him rejoin the bullpen at some point next week.
"It's definitely an important first step," said manager Mike Scioscia, who believes the veteran left-hander may be able to skip a rehab assignment.
"It's only his first 'pen, so he's going to have to get some bullpens under his feet. We'll take it one step at a time and then we'll be able to evaluate him better."
On Saturday night, Walden, out since July 8 with injuries to his neck and right biceps, got hit around in his first rehab appearance for Triple-A Salt Lake, giving up four runs (two earned) on three hits in two-thirds of an inning.
Scioscia said Walden's velocity was "about mid-range -- 93, 95 [mph] -- but there's other things he was working on getting out of the chute that are more important than him throwing 98 right now."
He'll pitch again Monday and the Angels will map out the rest of his rehab schedule off that.
"I think physically he felt good, as far as his health," Scioscia added. "Trying to work himself back into his delivery and just getting back out there in a game is obviously something he needs a little bit of work on, and that's why you need those rehab games."
Trout becoming expert thief of home runs
ANAHEIM -- Mike Trout can break a lot of hearts. Just ask the Mariners' Miguel Olivo, who on Saturday night became the third person to have a home run taken away from him by the Angels' star center fielder this season.
"It was gone, but he jumped like Spiderman," Olivo said, citing a nickname that once referenced current right fielder Torii Hunter. "I'm not the only one. He's got like four of those this year. It's unbelievable. He jumped high, too. I saw the replay and he jumped like 4 feet up."
Trout also robbed Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy in Baltimore on June 27 -- a play many still consider this year's best catch -- and did it again to White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham on Aug. 4.
According to ESPN, Trout is the first player to take away three home runs in a season since Mariners teammates Ichiro Suzuki and Franklin Gutierrez did it in 2010. The 21-year-old says he doesn't really practice the art, though. He and several of his teammates fool around with it in batting practice, "but you have to be careful in BP, you don't want to get hurt."
"It's basically a last-second thing," Trout said. "I just get to the wall, find my spot and jump up and catch it."
"It's almost pure athleticism," manager Mike Scioscia added. "It's probably 90 percent athleticism and 10 percent technique."
Angels hope rotation can reverse subpar results
ANAHEIM -- Names, track record and explanations mean nothing to the Angels at this point. All they know is they need a lot more out of their star-studded rotation.
If they don't get it -- and Jered Weaver continues to be the only consistent arm -- it could cost them the playoffs.
In the nine starts made by someone other than Weaver this month, the Angels have a combined 6.88 ERA, with two quality starts and one starter pitching through the seventh inning. Since the start of July, the rotation ERA has gone from an American League-leading 3.66 ERA to 4.09.
"We've hit about a month of just not pitching to our capabilities," Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher said. "And I know they're all trying. They're doing the work, they're very diligent about doing their things, they're definitely prepared for every game. We're not asking them to do too much. The plan is what they can do based on things that they can do, what they can bring to the table when they're out there."
Zack Greinke, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana have combined to appear in seven All-Star Games and are making $47.45 million this season, but all have been underperforming -- some only lately, some all year.
Greinke has a 5.68 ERA in three starts since joining the Angels; Wilson has given up 14 runs (11 earned) over his last 10 1/3 innings; Haren surrendered seven runs (five earned) in 3 1/3 innings on Saturday, putting his ERA at 4.68; and though Santana has shown signs of improvement lately, he has a 5.82 ERA on the year and hasn't completed seven innings since June 23.
Butcher mentioned that "health has played a little part of this." Haren continues to say the stiff lower back that landed him on the disabled list in early July is no longer a problem, and manager Mike Scioscia reiterated Sunday that he has no reason to believe any of his starters have health issues that would go so far as hindering their performance.
But the rigors of a season may be catching up to everyone at the same time.
"At certain points of the season, you're not going to be feeling well," Butcher added. "That's just the nature of the game. Unfortunately right now, we're going through some of that -- several guys at the same time. Generally it seems to be spaced out."
Whatever the reason, the rotation is simply performing below expectations. Because of that, a thin and struggling bullpen has had to take on a lot of innings, giving the Angels the worst ERA in the AL since July 30 (6.04). And because of that, fans have wondered about Butcher's job status, even though he guided the best pitching staff in the AL just last season.
Butcher wasn't happy when asked about concerns over his job security on Sunday. Asked earlier about how difficult these last few weeks have been on him, he said: "It's not about me. It's not about me when they're going good, it's not about me when they're going bad. It's never about me. It's all about them. So it's whatever I can give them. That's how I look at it. They have to go out there and they have to perform. Period. That's all there is to it."
Butcher ejected in first inning of Weaver's start
ANAHEIM -- The weather was uncommonly hot at Angel Stadium on Sunday -- and so was Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher.
Butcher was ejected in the first inning of the series finale against the Mariners after getting on home-plate umpire Mike Estabrook over his tight strike zone with ace Jered Weaver.
Estabrook didn't give Weaver a strike call on a couple of inside-corner pitches to third baseman Kyle Seager. And when his full-count fastball on the very edge of the plate was deemed a ball, Butcher hollered at Estabrook from the dugout, leading to his first ejection since 2008 (and fourth overall).
Butcher jogged out to the field and got in Estabrook's face after being tossed, then was separated by manager Mike Scioscia.
Vernon Wells snapped out of an 0-for-16 funk since coming off the disabled list on Saturday, going 3-for-3 with a two-run homer and an RBI single. The game gave him another start against Mariners left-hander Jason Vargas on Sunday -- ultimately going 0-for-3 with a sacrifice fly in the 4-1 loss.
"That was the most comfortable we've seen him in the box since he put on an Angel uniform," manager Mike Scioscia said. "Hopefully it's something he can build on. You play better, you're going to play more."
Asked if Wells could work himself back into more of an everyday role if he gets on a roll, Scioscia said: "We're going to take this one day at a time."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com Read his columns and 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.