ANAHEIM, California. — A calf, a hip, and an elbow showed up at Angel Stadium on Thursday night, and it wasn’t a man-in-the-bar joke. Rather, as the sun rises in the west in a new baseball season, the three body parts have come together and will, one way or another, play important roles in the AL West race.
Indeed, one of the beauties of a new season is that it is not only packed with optimism and the promise of a coming summer, but for some players it also includes the muscles and joints coming back in one piece after being strained, pulled, torn. or worn in the previous year.
It was Mike Trout’s right calf, good to go to 2022 after a teardown last year that limited him to just 36 games. Los Angeles Angels teammate, third baseman Anthony Rendon is back on the roster after a season-shortening surgery after 58 games last August to correct a right hip impingement.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, Houston will put one-time ace Justin Verlander into its rotation following Tommy John’s surgery two September earlier, which has kept him out of baseball for an appearance since 2019, among other health issues.
Together, these three players have teamed up for four Most Valuable Player Awards (Trout 3, Verlander 1), two Cy Young Awards (Verlander), 18 All-Star Games (Trout 9, Verlander 8, Rendon 1), and two World Series titles. (Verlander with the 2017 Astros; Rendon with the 2019 Nationals).
Collectively, 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).
As the Astros aim for a fifth division title over the past six seasons and the Angels seek to step into the postseason for the first time since 2014, each is an important pillar on an individual basis.
“We have a lot of exciting things ahead of us,” Trout said, and if that’s not the opening-day belief in all 30 major league clubhouses, it’s certainly fitting for both sanctuaries here.
AL’s MVPs for 2021, Trout, Rendon, and Shohei Ohtani were on the Angels roster just 17 times last season. If this happens again, the Angels will sink.
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While Trout and Ohtani were megastars, Rendon’s ongoing health issues have made some forget the impact he can have on the pitch.
“He’s one of those guys who can go under the radar at certain points, but just as effective as any,” Angels General Manager Perry Minasian said in a statement this spring at Rendon. “He’s one of the best batsmen in the game, one of the best players in the game. He has outstanding ability, he’s been a winner after multiple seasons.”
When Washington ran for a World Series title in 2019, Rendon knocked down a major league-leading 126 runs and also led the NL with 44 doubles. The base reached .319 with .412 percent and crushed 34 home runs.
Yet when playing alongside Ohtani, it’s easy for Rendon – or anyone, including Trout – to slip under that radar.
Ohtani’s appeal was evident in the closed sale crowd of 44,723 on Thursday night. It was evident in the remarkably loud pre-game applause from his translator, Ippei Mizuhara, and the news media wanting to talk to him (Angels officials said 250 people were certified, more than their playoff appearances in 2014). Ohtani wasted no time in achieving another astonishing feat: He became the first player in baseball history to make his team’s first pitch in a season (a kick to Jose Altuve, whom Ohtani sniffed) and faced his team’s first pitch as a batsman. in one season (Batting ahead of Trout, he was grounded to rookie Houston short-back Jeremy Peña).
Then, of course, when Ohtani finished shooting for the evening after 4⅔ cues, nine innings, four innings, 80 innings, and a 1-0 deficit. final 3-1 Houston winHe easily transitioned into the designated hit role at the top of the Angels series.
“You have to be a great baseball player for them to change a rule for you,” said Houston Manager Dusty Baker. new MLB rule allowing a player to switch from pitcher to DH in the middle of the game.
Baker, who needed just 12 wins to become the 12th to 2,000 wins in his 25th season as manager, spoke of the difficulty of playing both ways and “sooner or later”, how “sooner or later” Ohtani can become as his age begins to catch up with him. You have to choose between hitting and shooting.
“How old, 27?” Baker asked before laughing and admitted that his age “won’t be able to keep up with him for a while.”
Youth, like hope, is seemingly eternal at the dawn of a new season. Verlander, 39, is the 10th shooter 37 or older known to have operated on Tommy John. According to MLB.com (Verlander had surgery at 37, rehabilitated at 38, and turned 39 on February 20).
But “his arm is probably 26. I’ve seen that before,” Baker said. “I saw it with Orel Hershiser. I saw it with Tommy John, the original Tommy John.”
Astros All-Star third baseman Alex Bregman of Verlander’s return: “This is huge. He looked great in spring practice.”
Confident that he could be a Hall of Fame as an active player, Verlander finished third in the Astros rotation behind left-wing Framber Valdez and right-wing Jake Odorizzi, in part due to his days off early on the Astros schedule. Houston plans to give Verlander as much extra rest day as possible between starts as a precaution against fatigue. With that said, the year of Verlander is revealed, a club that has played in three of the last five World Series (2017, 2019, 2021) and is a favorite to return to October is excited to add a marquee talent after losing fixtures like Gerrit Cole (New York City). Yankees), George Springer (Toronto Blue Jays) and Carlos Correa (Minnesota Twins) have been free agents over the past few winters.
Fortunately, new seasons also come with spare parts. Peña, 24-years-old, stepped into the major league by plugging the hole in Correa’s short stop on Thursday. He is the son of Gerónimo Peña, a former major league player who played for 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 special assistant to Houston owner Jim Crane, spoke highly of Peña during batting practice before Thursday’s opening. The Astros plan to give the junior shortstop field to develop at their own pace.
“We’re not putting pressure on him,” Baker said. “The world might be putting pressure on him, you know what I mean? Pressure is something you have to deal with in this game. Imagine Didi Gregorius replace Jeter, a man who has been there for 20 years? The next Hank Aaron in Atlanta or I was in the same position where I was supposed to be Bobby Bonds at the next Willie Mays. There’s always the next person.”
All of this comes with time, gaps that need to be filled during the next six months of torment. For now, even veterans feel like kids when the curtain opens—for a while, at least. The ever-young Trout turns 31 in August and, returning from a calf injury, has now admitted to working with the Angels training team on exercises to keep him “loose and supple.”
“Things you didn’t really pay attention to when you were a little younger,” he said before adding with a chuckle, “ask any of our faculty, I’m not very flexible.”