ANAHEIM ― Phil Nevin penciled Jared Walsh into the Angels’ lineup on Saturday. Walsh’s name was announced twice over the public address system before the game began – once when the starting lineup was announced, again when the fielders were announced during warmups prior to the first inning – each time without additional fanfare.
Yet the occasion was hardly a minor one for Walsh. It was his first regular-season game since Aug. 24 of last year, and his first in an Angels uniform since a spring training game in Arizona on March 22. The intervening months were a slog through a unique rehab process from headaches and insomnia, and a host of neurological issues Walsh believes he now has under control.
“I’m happy with how it all went,” he said.
Walsh is not entirely free of the symptoms that have been plaguing him last year – what he described as a “general fogginess,” trouble fixating his eyes on a target, and “not really having a great idea where my body was in space.”
His rehab process, such as it was, involved re-training his mind and body with the help of neurologists, neuro-optometrists, and vestibular therapy. After undergoing outpatient therapy at a Utah clinic, Walsh played seven rehab games with Triple-A Salt Lake, batted .440 with a .576 on-base percentage, and declared himself fit to return.
Walsh said the specialists have informed him that he can be free of the symptoms, “hopefully sooner than later.”
“This is something I’m going to continue to work on,” Walsh said. “Compared to last year I do feel significantly better.”
Walsh followed up his breakout 2021 campaign by hitting. .215 with 15 home runs and 44 RBIs in 118 games last season. He was also dealing with thoracic outlet syndrome, a diagnosis that ultimately required surgery last September.
In 2021, Walsh’s first full season, he batted .277 with 29 home runs and 98 RBIs, enough to earn a place on the American League All-Star team. The Angels are hoping he can be closer to that version of himself after his brief stint in Triple-A. He also batted .400 with a .512 OBP in 14 spring training games.
The combination of Brandon Drury, Gio Urshela and Jake Lamb (who has since been optioned to Triple-A) batted .256 with a .286 OBP and a .390 slugging percentage in Walsh’s absence.
“We planned on (Walsh) being our first baseman, it just wasn’t that way for the first month and a half,” Nevin said. “We had plenty of guys who worked over there, filled in, and did a fine job. (Walsh) has been our guy. We expect him to be that. It’s just going to be a comfort level of having him over there. Ask the infielders, they’ll tell you the same thing.”
Nevin said Walsh’s condition is not one that should prevent him from playing as much as any other healthy player.
Walsh’s goal is more modest than making another All-Star team: “Just keep getting better every day. I know it’s cliché, but I really believe it in my circumstance. I’ve been chomping at the bit to get back playing baseball again.”
To make room for Walsh on the active roster, the Angels designated outfielder Brett Phillips for assignment.
Despite being on the Angels’ active roster every day this season, Phillips appeared in only 19 games and got 16 plate appearances, drawing three walks and collecting one hit. Phillips, 28, signed a one-year, $1.2 million free agent contract in January.
The emergence of left-handed hitting outfielder Mickey Moniak, and the presence of another left-handed hitter (Livan Soto) on the bench made Phillips, also a left-handed hitter, particularly expendable. Phillips could not be optioned to the minor leagues.
Nevin said Phillips’ endearing influence on the Angels’ clubhouse made the decision difficult despite the outfielder’s relative lack of production on the field.
“Brett’s an awesome teammate, an awesome guy,” Nevin said. “Those are some of the things we consider, certainly.”
Nevin said he maintains contact with infielder David Fletcher, who is hitting .304 with a .381 OBP and a .348 slugging percentage at Triple-A. “Talking to (Keith Johnson, the Salt Lake Bees’ manager), he’s been a big part of that room, he’s gone down there and done the right things,” Nevin said of Fletcher. “What that means right now, I don’t know. Our roster is where it is right now. I feel like we’re getting good production out of the infield.” … The Angels are awaiting the return of third baseman Anthony Rendon (groin strain). Nevin said Rendon has been working out inside but cautioned that his timetable to return will be “based on how he feels (and) what the test results are doing.”
Minnesota Twins (RHP Pablo Lopez, 2-2, 4.00 ERA) at Angels (RHP Shohei Ohtani, 5-1, 3.23 ERA), Sunday, 1 p.m., Bally Sports West, 830 AM
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