After crossing into his 30s and spending significant chunks of the past two seasons on the injured list, Mike Trout has come around on the value of a day off.
“I used to fight it, big time,” the Angels superstar said. “I still do, when (Manager Phil Nevin) says I have a day off, I give him some crap, but he’s strong with his reasoning and I trust him. Instead of being all (ticked) off that I’m not in the lineup, I take the day and move on to the next.”
One of the reasons the Angels have failed to meet expectations lately is that they’ve played too many games without their three-time American League MVP, who suffered a calf injury in 2021 and a back injury in 2022.
In order to try to avoid a similar fate this season, the Angels have a plan for giving him a few more scheduled days off, and Trout, 31, said he’s come to grips with the fact that it is the best solution.
“It’s a long season,” Trout said. “I’d rather take a day now than be out. If I didn’t have the injuries I have had in the past, it would be a different story, but freak things happen. You do the best you can to prevent them. You’ll be better in the long run.”
Trout’s days off are always a hot topic among Angels fans who, naturally, want to see the 10-time All-Star in the lineup every day when he’s healthy.
Trout has been out for three of the Angels’ first 38 games. Nevin said the plan all along was for him to miss about one in 10 games. If they maintain that pace all season, he would play 146 games. That would be his most since 2016.
Trout is actually hoping that taking the days now will mean he will need fewer days off in August and September.
“Down the stretch, you want to be there every day,” he said. “Being able to stay fresh now is great. I feel great.”
Nevin said there are a few things he looks for to determine when Trout needs a day off, but there is one scenario that will always raise a red flag.
“If you look in the past, long flights across the country and playing the next day don’t do well for me,” Trout said.
In 2021, the Angels played in Boston on May 16 and then played at home the next night. Trout suffered his calf injury in that game. The injury was at first expected to sideline him for about two months, but he missed the rest of the season.
That’s why one of Trout’s three off days this year was on April 21, the first game of a homestand after the Angels played the day before in New York. The Angels’ upcoming trip ends in Baltimore on May 18 and they have a home game the following day, so Trout is likely to be off for the first game of that homestand on May 19.
Major League rules mandate that a team has a day off anytime it flies from the Pacific time zone to the Eastern time zone, but not the other direction. Even though there is a built-in off day when teams fly East, a few years ago the Angels began flying an extra day early to mitigate the impact of the travel. They flew from Southern California to Cleveland on Wednesday night, even though the series begins on Friday.
An east-to-west cross-country flight was also a part of the back injury Trout suffered last year, but there were other factors involved in that one.
Last year the Angels were trying to climb back into the race in June when Trout played five games in four days in Seattle, including playing both ends of a doubleheader in center field.
“You play 18 innings of baseball, you can be in the best shape of your life and you’re still going to be grinding coming out of that,” Trout said. “It probably had something to do with (the back injury).”
The following week Trout began a stretch in which he played 16 games in a row. After the 15th game in that stretch, the Angels flew from Baltimore back to Southern California. The Angels did have a day off after that flight, but Trout nonetheless left the next game with the back injury that ended up costing him five weeks.
Nevin said he’ll also rely on the “eye test” to determine when Trout doesn’t look right.
“Sometimes I can see that it’s not Mike Trout,” Nevin said.
Nevin said he will be careful to give days off to players like Trout, 32-year-old third baseman Anthony Rendon and 31-year-old infielder Gio Urshela when it looks like they need them, regardless of how the team is playing.
Nevin’s plan to give Trout and Rendon regular days off has been enabled by General Manager Perry Minasian, who built a deeper roster this year.
“Not to take anything away from the past, but I don’t think we’ve had that in a while,” Trout said.
So far the Angels are 3-0 in games when Trout hasn’t played and 6-3 in games Rendon hasn’t played. They’re also 2-0 when Shohei Ohtani isn’t in the lineup.
All of this is certain to frustrate some fans who figure that a young, healthy athlete ought to be able to play a baseball game six or seven times a week without needing any more days off than the schedule provides.
Nevin used to think the same thing when he was playing.
He recalled a stretch when he was playing every day with the Padres, and then-manager Bruce Bochy wanted to give him a day off because he didn’t look right.
“I said ‘I’m not tired,’” Nevin recalled. “I argued with him. But he gave it to me. But I played the next day and I remember feeling so much better. The bat went through the zone a tick quicker. The reaction times at third were just a tick quicker. I certainly could tell a difference.”
Nevin and Trout both said there are also mental benefits to a day off.
“Obviously the day off is for resting the body, but it’s also to rest your mind, to just be able to take your mind off baseball,” Trout said. “The mental part of this game is huge.”
Nevin said there can be a benefit to simply watching a game, especially when a player is struggling.
“Take a day and let it come to you,” Nevin said. “Let it look easy for a minute. It’s not, but if you’re sitting and watching, it’s that mindset.”
Angels (LHP Tyler Anderson, 1-0, 5.40 ERA) at Guardians (LHP Logan Allen, 1-1, 2.70), Friday, 4:10 p.m., Bally Sports West, 830 AM
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