BALTIMORE — Mike Trout stood at his locker fully understanding the questions were coming.
Unfortunately, he didn’t have the answers.
The Angels superstar is currently mired in one of the rare extended slumps in a career that has included three American League MVP awards and will end with a trip to the Hall of Fame.
“If I could pinpoint it, I could fix it by now,” Trout said before Wednesday’s game. “Some at-bats I feel good and some I’m just under balls.”
Trout has hit .185 with a .526 OPS over the 14 games leading into Wednesday, with 17 strikeouts and four walks in 60 plate appearances.
“Just searching, trying to maybe press and do too much,” Trout said. “I think the last few games it seems like one game it’s there and the next game it seems something is off. That’s baseball for you. … It’s frustrating because you’re getting a lot of chances and you’re not coming through for your team. That’s what it comes down to. As a competitor, you want to go out there and do your best and be your best. Sometimes things aren’t right. It’s tough.”
Outside of when he first debuted in the big leagues as a 19-year-old in 2011, Trout has had just one 14-game stretch in which his OPS was this low, and that was sandwiched around his back injury last year. (His career-worst 0-for-26 slump last year spanned just seven games, and he did fine immediately before and after it.)
Trout, 31, insists there is nothing physically wrong with him now, which is partly because the Angels have been giving him days off to keep him fresh.
“Actually this is the best I’ve ever felt,” he said. “It’s a little frustrating because you feel like you’re getting a lot of opportunities and you’re not coming through. But it’s baseball. It’s a long season. Things will turn around.”
One of the most puzzling parts of Trout’s slump is the trouble he has with fastballs.
“I’m just a tick under them or a tick late,” Trout said.
Trout has whiffed on 28.6% of his swings at fastballs this season, which is the highest rate of his career. Last year was the first season that Trout was ever higher than 20%. The major league average whiff rate on fastballs is 20.1% this season.
During Trout’s current slump, his whiff rate at fastballs is 29.3%, which is only slightly worse than what he was in April. The difference is that he’s seen more fastballs. Pitchers have thrown him a fastball 70.7% of the time in May, compared with 64% in April.
Trout is hitting .247 with a .484 slugging percentage on at-bats that end with a fastball, compared with the major league averages of .268 and .442.
Trout’s performance against breaking balls (.292 and .521) and offspeed pitches (.375 and .438) has been better than average, which has helped him stay afloat.
All of that raises the question of whether Trout is simply losing the ability to catch up to fastballs that get harder every year.
Manager Phil Nevin said the Angels’ measurements of Trout’s bat speed have shown no decline.
“The only slight difference might be the bat angle, but those are things we can work on mechanically,” Nevin said.
Fastballs nowadays are not what they were even a few years ago. Pitchers now have a better understanding of how spin can make it tougher for hitters to get the bat on fastballs up in the zone, which is where Trout has always had some trouble.
“Everybody has a weakness,” Nevin said. “His are smaller than anybody’s in the game. Pitchers are getting better and better. They find some things here and there, but if they miss by a small margin, he’s gonna get it when he’s right.”
Trout said flatly that he is not concerned about this slump having long-term implications.
Even with this slump, he still has an .852 OPS and an OPS+ of 130, meaning he’s 30% better than the average major-league hitter. He ranks third in the majors in OPS among all players who have played 75% of their games in center field.
As recently as April 29, before this slump began, Trout had an OPS of 1.020. He hit his sixth and seventh homers of the season in that game, which at that time put him on a pace for more than 40 homers.
“It’s just like any player,” Nevin said. “You get some ups and downs and highs and lows in a season. Mike’s no different than the others. It’s just the fact that his highs are so impressive. He’s what many people say is the best player in the world so when he has a couple of weeks stretch like everyone in the world does, a lot of people want to know what the heck’s wrong. My best answer is nothing.”
The Angels were encouraged by the MRI results on third baseman Anthony Rendon, who is on the injured list with a strained groin.
“There are a few different spots where it’s at,” Nevin said. “Hopefully they all heal at the same time and it won’t be too long.”
Nevin said Rendon will begin doing some baseball activity when the Angels return home this weekend, and they’ll re-evaluate him then.
First baseman Jared Walsh told Nevin after his three-hit game on Tuesday that his “timing is coming along quicker than he thought.”
Walsh, who has missed the first quarter of the season because of treatment for headaches and insomnia, is 7 for 17 with a home run in five games at Triple-A.
Nevin said Walsh is expected to play first base for Salt Lake on Thursday and Friday, and then they will have the conversation to determine the next step.
Right-hander Jaime Barría hasn’t pitched in 11 days, but Nevin and Barria both said the pitcher has been fine. He has warmed up a few times during the stretch. …
Right-hander Davis Daniel (right shoulder strain) has been on the injured list since early in spring training, but he has begun throwing, Nevin said. He is still “a long way away,” Nevin said. …
The Angels are planning to discuss what to do with the rotation on Friday, but Nevin said they are still leaning toward having Chase Silseth start again on Monday. Nevin said a normal between-starts routine should help Silseth maintain his strength deeper into the game than when he gave up four runs in 3-1/3 innings on Tuesday.
Angels (LHP Tyler Anderson, 1-0, 5.26 ERA) at Orioles (RHP Tyler Wells, 3-1, 2.68), Thursday, 9:35 a.m., Bally Sports West, 830 AM
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