ANAHEIM, Calif. — A calf, a hip and an elbow showed up at Angel Stadium this week, and it wasn’t some go-to-a-bar joke. Rather, as the sun rose in the west on a new baseball season, three body parts converged that, one way or another, will play a pivotal role in the race to the American League West.
In fact, one of the beauties of a new season is that it not only comes packaged with optimism and the promise of next summer, but, for certain players, it also includes muscles and joints coming back together in one piece after suffer sprains, strains and tears. or frayed the previous year.
It was Mike Trout’s right calf, set for 2022 after a strain limited him to just 36 games last year. His Los Angeles Angels teammate, third baseman Anthony Rendon, was back in the lineup after surgery last August to repair an impingement in his right hip that interrupted his season after 58 games.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, Houston will insert former ace Justin Verlander into its rotation following Tommy John surgery two September ago that, along with other health issues, has kept him out of baseball in all but one appearance since 2019.
Together, those three players combined for four Most Valuable Player Awards (Trout 3, Verlander 1), two Cy Young Awards (Verlander), 18 All-Star appearances (Trout 9, Verlander 8, Rendon 1) and two World Series titles. (Verlander with the 2017 Astros; Rendon with the 2019 Nationals).
Together, they have contracts worth $696.5 million (Trout $426.5 million over 12 years, Rendon $245 million over seven and Verlander $25 million by 2022).
Individually, each is a major prop as the Astros aim for their fifth division title in the past six seasons and the Angels look to enter the postseason for the first time since 2014.
“There’s a lot of exciting stuff ahead,” Trout said, and if that’s not the opening day creed in 30 major league clubhouses, it surely fits both dugouts here.
Trout, Rendon and Shohei Ohtani, the 2021 AL MVP, have appeared together in each of the Angels’ first two games of the season, something that happened just 17 times last year. If they end up struggling to say on the field, the Angels are sunk.
The 2022 MLB season begins
Baseball is back after a labor dispute delayed the start of the season.
While Trout and Ohtani are megastars, Rendon’s ongoing health issues have caused some to forget the impact he can have on the field.
“He’s one of those guys that can fly under the radar at certain points, especially with the high-profile guys that we have, but he’s just as impactful as any of them,” Angels general manager Perry Minasian said this spring of Rendon. “He’s one of the best hitters in the game, one of the best players in the game. He has outstanding fitness, he is a multiple postseason winner.”
In Washington’s run to a World Series title in 2019, Rendon scored a major league-leading 126 runs and also led the NL with 44 doubles. He hit .319 with a .412 on-base percentage and hit 34 home runs.
However, playing alongside Ohtani, it’s easy for Rendon, or anyone else, including Trout, to slip under the radar.
Ohtani’s charm was evident in the packed crowd of 44,723 on Thursday. It was obvious in the remarkably loud pregame ovation for his translator, Ippei Mizuhara, and in the media crush to speak with him (250 people were credited, which was more than his 2014 playoff appearance, fans said). Angels officials). Ohtani wasted no time in producing another amazing achievement: He became the first player in baseball history to throw his team’s first pitch in a season (a strike to José Altuve, at whom Ohtani snorted) and, as a hitter, he faced his team’s first pitch. in one season (batting leadoff ahead of Trout, he grounded out to Houston rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena).
Then, of course, when Ohtani was done pitching for the night after 4 ⅔ innings, nine strikeouts, four hits, 80 pitches and a 1-0 deficit in an eventual 3-1 Houston win, he comfortably transitioned to the designated hitter role at the top of the team. The Angels’ lineup, and he returned as DH on Friday in the Angels’ 13-6 loss to Houston.
“You have to be a great ballplayer for them to change a rule for you,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said, referring to the new MLB rule that allows a player to transition from pitcher to designated hitter in the middle of the game. match.
Baker, who in his 25th season as a coach needs just 12 wins to become the 12th person to reach 2,000 wins, spoke about the difficulty of playing two ways and how “sooner or later,” when age starts to catch up, Ohtani may have to choose between hitting and pitching.
“How old is he, 27?” Baker asked before laughing, acknowledging that age “won’t catch up with him for a while.”
Youth, like hope, springs forth seemingly eternal at the dawn of a new season. Verlander, 39, is only the 10th pitcher 37 and older known to have had Tommy John surgery, according to MLB.com (Verlander had the procedure at 37, rehabbing until 38 and turning 39 on February 20).
But “his arm is probably 26. I’ve seen this before,” Baker said. “I saw it with Orel Hershiser. I saw him with Tommy John, the original Tommy John.”
Astros All-Star third baseman Alex Bregman said of Verlander’s return: “It’s big. He looked great in spring training.”
As true as a Hall of Famer as an active player may be, Verlander ranked third in the Astros’ rotation behind left-hander Framber Valdez and right-hander Jake Odorizzi in part because of the way days off fall. early on the Astros schedule. Houston intends to give Verlander an extra day off between starts whenever he can to guard against fatigue. However Verlander’s year turns out, a club that has played in three of the last five World Series (2017, 2019, 2021) and is a favorite to return to October again, is delighted to re-add a standout talent after losing shortstop Carlos Correa due to free agency this spring.
Luckily, then, that the new seasons also come with spare parts. Pena, 24, made his major league appearance Thursday, plugging the hole at shortstop left by Correa. He is the son of former Major League player Gerónimo Peña, who played in St. Louis (1990-1995) and Cleveland (1996). Jeremy played three seasons at the University of Maine and was Houston’s third-round pick in 2018. Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, now a special assistant to Houston owner Jim Crane, raved about Peña during practice. batting before Thursday’s first game. The Astros intend to give his young shortstop room to develop at her own pace.
“We’re not pressuring him,” Baker said. “The world could be putting pressure on him, you know what I mean? Pressure is something you have to deal with in this game. Imagine Didi Gregorius taking over from Jeter, a guy who, how long was he there, 20 years? I was in the same position, I was supposed to be the next Hank Aaron in Atlanta, or Bobby Bonds the next Willie Mays. There’s always the next someone.”
It doesn’t seem like the pressure is getting to Peña. After going 0-for-4 Thursday with a pair of strikeouts, he looked very comfortable Friday, with three hits and a 423-foot home run.
Determining whether each of these players is up to their assigned tasks will be resolved over the next six months. For now, even veterans feel like children when the curtain rises, at least for a while. The ever-young Trout will turn 31 in August and acknowledged that upon returning from the calf injury, he now works out daily with the Angels’ coaching staff on drills to keep him “loose and flexible.”
“Things that when you’re a little younger, you don’t really pay attention to,” he said, before adding with a laugh, “ask any of our training staff, I’m not very flexible.”