ANAHEIM, Calif. — A calf, hip, and elbow showed up at Angel Stadium on Thursday night, and it wasn’t a bar-go type joke. Instead, as the sun rose in the west on a new baseball season, three body parts converged that, one way or another, will play pivotal roles in the AL race. West.
Indeed, one of the beauties of a new season is that it’s not only packed with optimism and the promise of the summer to come, but, for some players, it also includes the return of muscles and joints in one piece after being stretched, pulled, torn. or frayed the previous year.
It was Mike Trout’s right calf, good for 2022 after a tear 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 a right hip impingement that cut his season short after 58 games.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, Houston will insert former ace Justin Verlander into its rotation after Tommy John’s surgery two Septembers ago which, along with other health issues, kept him from playing baseball for all appearances. except one since 2019.
Together, these three players have combined for four Most Valuable Player awards (Trout 3, Verlander 1), two Cy Young Awards (Verlander), 18 All-Star Game 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 years and Verlander $25 million for 2022).
Individually, each is an important mainstay as the Astros chase their Fifth Division title over the past six seasons and the Angels seek to enter the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
“Lots of exciting things to come,” Trout said, and if that’s not the opening day credo at all 30 major league clubs, it certainly suits the two dugouts here.
Trout, Rendon and Shohei Ohtani, the AL MVP of 2021, only appeared together on the Angels roster 17 times last season. If this were to happen again, the Angels would be sunk.
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While Trout and Ohtani are megastars, Rendon’s ongoing health issues have made some overlook the impact he can have on the pitch.
“He’s one of those guys that can go under the radar at times, especially with the top guys that we have, but he’s just as impactful as any of them,” the GM said. of the Angels, Perry Minasian, this spring of Rendon. “He’s one of the best hitters in the game, one of the best players in the game. He’s got exceptional skills, he’s a multiple playoff winner.
In Washington’s run to a World Series title in 2019, Rendon won 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 homers.
Playing alongside Ohtani, however, it’s easy for Rendon — or anyone else, Trout included — to slip under that radar.
Ohtani’s appeal was evident in the sold-out crowd of 44,723 Thursday night. This was evident in the noticeably loud pre-game ovation for his translator, Ippei Mizuhara, and the media’s crush on speaking to him (250 people were accredited, which was more than t for their playoff appearance of 2014, Angels officials said). Ohtani wasted no time in producing another jaw-dropping achievement: he became the first player in baseball history to throw his team’s first pitch in a season (a strike to Jose Altuve, which Ohtani snorted) and, as a hitter, to face his team’s first pitch. in one season (first at bat to Trout, he lost to Houston rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña).
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 victory at Houston, he comfortably moved into the designated hitter role atop the Angel lineup.
“You have to be a great ball player for them to change a rule for you,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said, referring to MLB’s new rule allowing a player to pass midgame at DH from launcher.
Baker, who in his 25th season as manager needs just 12 wins to become the 12th person to claim 2,000 wins, spoke of the difficulty of playing two ways and how “sooner or later” , when age starts to catch up with him, Ohtani may have to choose between hitting and throwing.
“How old is he, 27? Baker asked before laughing and admitted that age “isn’t going to catch up with him for a while.”
Youth, like hope, seems eternal at the dawn of a new season. Verlander, 39, is just the 10th pitcher aged 37 or older known to have undergone Tommy John surgery, according to MLB.com (Verlander underwent the procedure at age 37, rehabilitated until 38 and turned 39 on February 20).
But “his arm is probably 26 years old. I’ve seen that 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 of Verlander’s return said, “That’s big. He looked great in spring training.
As sure as a Hall of Famer can be an active player, Verlander was seeded third in the Astros rotation behind left-hander Framber Valdez and right-hander Jake Odorizzi in part because of how early the days off fall in the game. Astros schedule. Houston intends to give Verlander an extra day off between starts whenever he can to guard against fatigue. Whatever Verlander’s year is, a club that has played in three of the last five World Series (2017, 2019, 2021) and is one of the favorites to return in October is delighted to add marquee talent after having lost luminaries like Gerrit Cole (New York Yankees), George Springer (Toronto Blue Jays) and Carlos Correa (Minnesota Twins) in free agency over the past few winters.
Fortunately, the new seasons also come with spares. Peña, 24, made his major league appearance on Thursday, plugging the hole at shortstop left by Correa. He is the son of former major leaguer Gerónimo Peña, who played for St. Louis (1990-95) 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 special assistant to Houston owner Jim Crane, spoke enthusiastically about Peña during batting practice before Thursday’s opener. The Astros intend to give their young shortstop space to develop at his own pace.
“We don’t pressure him,” Baker said. “The world could put 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, what was he there, at 20? I was in the same position, supposed to be the next Hank Aaron in Atlanta, or Bobby Bonds the next Willie Mays. There is always the next someone.
All of this comes with time, blanks to be filled over the next six months. For now, even veterans feel like children when the curtain goes up – for a while, at least. The still-young Trout will turn 31 in August and admitted that in coming back from his calf injury, he is now working daily with the Angels’ coaching staff on drills to keep him “loose and flexible”.
“Stuff 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 trainers, I’m not very flexible.”