ANAHEIM, California – Leaf, hip and elbow appeared at Angel Stadium on Thursday night, and it was no joke about a guy going to a bar. Instead, as the sun rose in the west in the new baseball season, three body parts came together that will, in one way or another, play a key role in the AL West race.
Indeed, one of the beauties of the new season is that it not only comes packed with optimism and promise of the coming summer, but, for certain players, includes the return of muscles and joints in one piece after straining, pulling, tearing or frayed a year earlier.
It was Mike Trout’s right-wing paper, good for 2022 after a tear limited him to just 36 games last year. His Los Angeles Angels teammate, third player Anthony Rendon, returned to the lineup after surgery last August to repair his right hip which interrupted his season after 58 games.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, Houston will insert their former ace Justin Verlander into his rotation after Tommy John’s surgery two September ago, which, along with other health issues, prevented him from playing baseball for all but one 2019 appearance.
Together, the three players together won 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 titles in World Series (Verlander with Astros 2017; Rendon with National Championship 2019).
Together, they have contracts worth $ 696.5 million (Traut $ 426.5 million for 12 years, Rendon $ 245 million for seven and Verlander $ 25 million for 2022).
Individually, each is an important pillar because the Astros have been aiming for their five-league title for the past six seasons, and the Angels want to enter the post-season for the first time since 2014.
“A lot of exciting things are ahead of us,” Trout said, and if that’s not credo on opening day at all 30 major league club houses, it certainly fits into both dugouts here.
Trout, Rendon and Shohei Ohtani, the MVP of AL in 2021, appeared together in the Angels lineup only 17 times last season. If this happens again, the Angels are submerged.
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While Trout and Ohtani are megastars, Rendon’s constant health problems have made some forget what impact he can have on the field.
“He’s one of those guys who can get under the radar at certain moments, especially with the high-profile guys we have, but he’s as impressive as any of them,” Angels CEO Perry Minasian told Rendon this spring. “He is one of the better strikers in the game, one of the better players in the game. He has extraordinary abilities, he is a winner in several post-seasons. “
In Washington’s bid for the 2019 World Series title, Rendon scored 126 runs as a leader in the major leagues, and also led the NL with 44 pairs. He hit .319 with .412 percent at the base and broke 34 home runs.
However, playing together with Ohtani, it is easy for Rendon – or anyone else, including Trout – to get under that radar.
Ohtani’s appeal was evident in the sold-out crowd of 44,723 on Thursday night. This was evident in the noticeably loud applause before the match for his translator, Ippei Mizuharu, and in the media sympathy to talk to him (250 people have been accredited, which is more than t for their performance in the 2014 playoffs, Angels officials said). Ohtani wasted no time in creating another stunning achievement: he became the first player in baseball history to throw his team’s first court of the season (a blow to Jose Altuve, which inspired Ohtani) and, as a striker, faced his team’s first court of the season. (hitting the lead ahead of Trout, he switched to Houston rookie Jeremy Peñu).
Then, of course, when Ohtani finished the throw for the evening after 4 ⅔ innings, nine outings, four shots, 80 throws and a 1-0 deficit in Houston’s final 3-1 win, he comfortably moved into a certain role of hitter at the top of the Lineup angels.
“You have to be a great player for them to change the rule for you,” said Houston manager Dusty Baker, referring to a new MLB rule that allows a player to move in the middle of a DH game from a pitcher.
Baker, who in his 25th season as a manager only needs 12 wins to become the 12th person to achieve 2,000 wins, spoke about the difficulties of playing in two ways and how “sooner or later, when the years start to catch up, Ohtani may have to choose between hitting and throwing.
“How old is he, 27?” Baker asked before laughing and admitted that the years “wouldn’t come for a while.”
Youth, as hope, seems to spring eternally at the dawn of the new season. Verlander, 39, is only the 10th pitcher aged 37 or over who is known to have had Tommy John surgery, according to MLB.com (Verlander underwent the procedure at age 37, rehabilitated to 38 and turned 39 at 20. February).
“But his hand is probably 26 years old. I’ve seen this before,” Baker said. “I saw it with Orel Hershiser. I saw it with Tommy John, the original Tommy John. ”
Astros All-Star third player Alex Bregman said of Verlander’s return: “It’s great. He looked great in the spring training. “
As confident as he is a member of the Hall of Fame as an active player, Verlander was third in the Astros rotation, behind left-hander Frambert Valdez and right-winger Jake Odorizzi, in part because of the way his days off fall early in the Astros schedule. Houston intends to spot Verlander an extra day off between starts whenever possible as protection against fatigue. Whatever Verlander’s year turns out to be, the club that has played in three of the previous five World Series (2017, 2019, 2021) and which is a favorite to return in October is again thrilled with the addition of talent after losing stars such as Gerrit Cole (New York Yankees), George Springer (Toronto Blue Jays) and Carlos Correa (Minnesota Twins) to a free agency over the past few winters.
It is good, therefore, that the new seasons are coming with spare parts. Peña, 24, came into his major league on Thursday, plugging a hole in the short rate left by Correa. He is the son of former first division side Gerónim Peña, who played for St. Louis (1990-1995) and Cleveland (1996). Jeremy played three seasons at the University of Maine and was selected by Houston in the third round of 2018. Member of the Hall of Fame Reggie Jackson, now special assistant to Houston owner Jim Crane, spoke enthusiastically about Pena during punching training before opening on Thursday. The Astros intend to give their young short-lived space to develop at his own pace.
“We’re not putting pressure on him,” Baker said. “The world may 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 Jeter, a guy who has been there for 20 years? I was in the same position, it was supposed to be the next Hank Aaron in Atlanta, or Bobby Bonds the next Willie Mays. There’s always someone next. “
It all comes with time, gaps that need to be filled over the next six months. For now, even veterans feel like kids when the curtain rises – at least for a while. The always young Trout turns 31 in August and admits that, after returning from a leaf injury, he now works daily with Angels coaching staff on exercises to be “loose and flexible”.
“Things you don’t pay much attention to when you’re a little younger,” he said, before adding with a laugh, “ask any of our training staff, I’m not very flexible.”