TORONTO -- Vernon Wells was back where it all began on Thursday, but it hardly felt like a homecoming.
For one, there's been so much turnover with the Blue Jays over the last couple of seasons that he hardly recognizes the faces in the home dugout at Rogers Centre. Then there's the fact that he isn't playing, out for more than a month because of an injury to his right thumb that required surgery.
"It feels like forever, but it definitely makes you appreciate your time on the field," said Wells, a three-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner while playing his first 12 seasons in Toronto. "You can't take that for granted, because as much as I love baseball, it's tough to watch when you're not out there playing."
But Wells is progressing. He's been taking fly balls and doing some running drills, expects to start hitting and throwing next week, hopes to begin a rehab assignment shortly after the All-Star break and doesn't see any reason why he wouldn't be activated by late July.
What role he'll be activated for? That's a different story.
Prior to May 20, when Wells was injured, the Angels' offense sported a .252/.305/.383 line. Since then it's .282/.344/.448.
Whether that's a byproduct or a coincidence is debatable -- Mike Trout's emergence alone is responsible for a lot of that boost -- but it does bring into question what kind of role Wells will have upon returning.
The outfield is essentially set, with Trout, Mark Trumbo and Torii Hunter, and Peter Bourjos finding it hard to play, and there's no way the Angels can move Wells' contract, which will pay him $21 million each of the next two seasons.
"This thing can turn six different ways before he comes back," manager Mike Scioscia said, "so you really can't speculate on what's going to happen."
How much has Wells thought about that?
"None," Wells said. "No concern here. My concern is just getting my thumb better. Everything else will take care of itself. It's not my job anyway. I just have to go out and play baseball and help this team win. As long as I do that, I'll find a spot here and there."
Command remains an issue for Haren
TORONTO -- Dan Haren had a simple answer when asked about his most recent outing, on Thursday against the Blue Jays.
"I need to stop giving up three-run homers," Haren said. "It's been a nice little theme for me lately."
That's happened three times in a row now. First it was Aaron Hill of the D-backs, then Bobby Abreu of the Dodgers and, at Rogers Centre on Thursday, it was Jose Bautista, who hit a three-run bomb in the bottom of the fifth to ensure Haren would not put up a quality start for the ninth time in 16 starts this season.
The Angels got the win in the opener of the four-game series, 9-7, but Haren continued to struggle, giving up six runs on seven hits (two of them homers) in six innings to put his ERA at 4.53 ERA. He's now given up 15 homers this season after surrendering 20 in 2011.
"I've got tons of confidence in Dan," manager Mike Scioscia said. "The one thing about Dan, which I think he can do better, is control and command some counts a little bit."
Asked if he had any reason to believe Haren's back is still bothering him, as it did earlier this year, Scioscia said, "None whatsoever."
The problem, Haren will tell you, is all about location. He knows he's not the guy who used to throw in the mid-90s anymore, so his margin for error is a whole lot smaller, and his location needs to be that much more crisp.
Haren, one of baseball's most consistent starters from 2005-11, went through similar struggles in 2010, posting a 5.35 ERA in the first two months, then a 2.91 ERA in the final two after being sent from the D-backs to the Angels.
The key to the turnaround then?
"Getting the ball down," Haren said.
And that's what the 31-year-old right-hander is working on in order to stop giving up so many home runs and provide his team with the quality starts it expects from him.
"I have to do more to help this ballclub, because we're playing too good right now," he said. "I'm confident in myself, and I'm confident in my work ethic in between. I'm not going to let that be the reason why I'm not doing well."
Numbers game could force Richards to Minors
TORONTO -- Garrett Richards may have extended his tenure in the Major Leagues, but he hasn't escaped the cruel numbers game that still points unfavorably in his direction.
It turns out that the lack of starting pitching depth the Angels have outside their active roster could push Richards back to the Minor Leagues once Jerome Williams returns from the disabled list. But a lot can change until then, and Williams, who threw a bullpen session at Rogers Centre on Thursday, will make at least two Minor League rehab starts before rejoining the Angels.
But the Angels' best chance of maximizing their rotation depth is to put Williams back in and keep Richards stretched out with the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees, regardless of how well he pitches.
Williams is out of options and, as manager Mike Scioscia pointed out, would quickly lose his length as a starter if confined to the bullpen. And there's little use putting Richards in an undefined bullpen role, either.
"I think our bullpen is developing some depth," Scioscia said. "What we don't have is, from an organizational viewpoint, starting pitching depth outside of the six terrific starters we have here."
Six quality starters is a fantastic luxury -- and one the Blue Jays must envy -- but despite getting Trevor Bell and Brad Mills back in the Triple-A rotation recently, the Angels don't have much more in their farm system in case something happens in the big leagues. That's where Richards could come in.
Williams, on the DL after an asthma attack following his June 18 start against the Giants, has pitched better than his 4.46 ERA would indicate. But Richards, who initially took Jered Weaver's spot in the rotation and stayed when Williams went on the shelf, has been lights out, giving up five earned runs in 27 2/3 innings.
"You have to look at every avenue," Scioscia said. "Before Jerome had [his breathing problems], he pitched some good baseball for us, and Garrett has pitched terrific baseball also. It's not a bad position to be in when you have that kind of depth from a starting staff. Again, we have a little bit of time for that one, and we'll keep evaluating where Jerome is and where our rotation is."
There's no place like away from home for Halos
TORONTO -- The road has been awfully kind to the Angels lately.
It's not just the last two nights -- they totaled 20 runs on 33 hits in hitter-friendly Camden Yards -- it's the last 14 games, a stretch that has seen the Angels go 13-1 while outscoring opponents 81-37.
That surge marks just the fourth time in club history that the Angels have won 13 of 14 road games, and the first time since 1995. And since 14 of their next 18 games are on the road, it also comes at a good time.
The Angels started slowly away from home -- and at home, too, for that matter -- but they now have a 20-16 road record, which is tied for fourth best in the American League.
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.