Angels’ Anthony Rendon, now healthy, looking to bounce back

Anthony Rendon begged Kurt Suzuki to stay. The Los Angeles Angels third baseman never liked doing interviews, always avoided them by all means necessary – which meant he included strong club chair facts more than once.

But his former Washington Nationals World Series teammate, who became a neighbor of the Angels’ locker, would not intervene on his behalf.

“I have to hit,” Suzuki said with a smile, knowing full well he was leaving Rendon alone to do the one baseball-related activity that made him uncomfortable: talking about himself.

Rendon never needed to talk much in Washington. A long list of more established stars more settled in the spotlight has always handled this. And he’s certainly not the best draw for the Angels either. Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani are two of the game’s biggest stars. He could also fly under the radar at Joe Maddon’s clubhouse.

But the equation is no longer so simple for Rendon, not after the Angels committed him $245 million through 2026, making him the fifth-highest-paid player in major league history by average annual value. .

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“No more problems,” Rendon joked when asked how more money had changed his life, the kind of joke that makes those who don’t know him wonder exactly who he is, exactly how much he is. loves the baseball life his talent has chosen for him.

“I think I’m grounded enough, have a good group of friends, and have people around me accountable that will kick me in the ass when I’m offline,” he said. he declares. “Pressure level? It’s human nature to feel a bit of that around you. But I have this accountability group around me to say, “Hey, that’s not what you’re here for.” That’s not why you’re playing this game.”

But whether Rendon dismisses them or not, the only thing this award brings are expectations – expectations he struggled to meet during his first two seasons as an Angel, the last of which was ended in July due to a nagging hip injury that eventually required surgery. The .287 career hitter hit .240 with a .712 on-base plus slugging percentage in 58 games, looking nothing like a player any team would commit that much money to – bringing up unpleasant memories of other recent Angels mega-deals that went nowhere.

Rendon told a local reporter he had nothing to prove to Angels fans. He’s been doing this for a while, he said. All skeptical fans had to do was watch highlights from his national days. But he’s worried about his teammates, about the ball he couldn’t catch when his hip got in the way last year, about the runner he didn’t bring home when he didn’t. didn’t have his legs under him.

“I know I’m better than what I was doing,” Rendon said. “I was like, s—, I know I’m worth more. I knew I could do more and I couldn’t.

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Anyone investing in Rendon knew that injury was not just a risk, but a probability. He was the leading hitter in the 2011 draft, but fell to Washington to sixth overall because he had two ankle surgeries in two years. At various times during his national championship tenure, Rendon battled a sprained medial collateral ligament, pulled muscles and other slow-healing leg injuries. And as early as the 2019 World Series, Rendon was trying a variety of strategies to activate the muscles around a wobbly hip that never seemed to give him the range of motion he thought it should.

He underwent MRI scans, CT scans and X-rays. He saw specialists in Vail, Colorado, New York City; and Texas – five in total. Eventually, he learned that what doctor after doctor had dismissed as common wear and tear was a torn labrum, requiring five anchors in his hip, and the shaving of several bones that had rubbed in the area. The injections and the corrective movements and the rest hadn’t helped because the problem was too big for the bandages.

Rendon hadn’t been able to squat in the weight room since his Nationals days, he just couldn’t get the hip to do what it was supposed to. He had been on a maintenance program for his glutes since 2016, never really knowing why he needed so much group work when his teammates didn’t.

“All the doctors told me the same thing: when you have a hip problem, everything around it shuts down. The quad will go, the hamstrings will go, the glutes won’t work, your back will be too tight,” Rendon said. “I always thought it was just muscular, that I just couldn’t activate those muscles.

This spring, Rendon squatted. He’s learning to kick with his legs again after at least two seasons – more, if he’s honest – without realizing how much he missed him. Now, he says, his swing feels fluid. The idea that Rendon has spent the past few years hitting without involving his legs is somewhat troubling: Only third baseman José Ramírez of Cleveland has racked up more FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement than Rendon since 2017.

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“Teams with the best years have the best stories. There will be surprises here and there, guys bouncing back from seasons that weren’t so good in the past,” Angels general manager Perry Minasian said. “Teams that are really successful, I think you can look back and there are seven, eight or nine stories that you wouldn’t have anticipated at the start of the year.”

Even a healed Rendon wouldn’t necessarily rewrite the narrative of the Angels, who entered this season with the same weight on their shoulders as they have had in years. The Angels have two of the brightest stars in the game in Ohtani and Trout, but can never get them to the playoffs. They have a willing-to-spend owner at Arte Moreno but never seem to spend enough – or in the right places – for it all to add up to winnings.

And this time around, they’re fighting not just to end a seven-year playoff drought, but to keep Ohtani interested: The two-way star will be a free agent after the 2024 season and has hinted in interviews with the Japanese media that he has to win sooner or later. Rendon thinks the angels are near.

“We are making this transition to become truly competitive. We are making this culture shift,” Rendon said. “It’s fun to see this change, and I only notice it because I was in DC when we went through it.”

Those DC years feel like “decades ago” for Rendon, who left the Nationals after the 2019 season with one child and begins the 2022 season with four, including twins. All of his older Nationals teammates always told him that having kids would change things, make baseball look smaller. He never really believed them.

“Everybody always said that when you have kids and you come home after a tough day and they come running to you, it changes everything. I never thought that would happen to me,” said Rendon said. “But it did. I was like, ‘Oh shit, now I know what they’re talking about.’ ”

Ancient Ali Modami, Nationals batting practice pitcher and clubhouse staple brought his talents to the angels when Rendon did too. And the night before Suzuki heartlessly ditched Rendon with a reporter, the three of them had gone to dinner with fellow 2019 World Series champions Trea Turner, Howie Kendrick and Yan Gomes, who were also all in Arizona in March, their national days behind them. . They watch each other from afar.

But like Suzuki when he left Rendon that morning in late March, all must go get their swings now, to maintain new routines, unable to protect each other from new surroundings and new pressures, left only to watch where the time takes them next.

About Richard Chandler

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