Anthony Rendon has looked every bit like the former World Series champion the Angels signed after spending most of the last two years on the injured list. His greatest expectation is to make it through this season without any other freak injuries.
And his other expectations for the season?
“To be the last team standing,” the third baseman said before opening day. “That needs to be a goal for every major league team for this league to be competitive. If you’re not playing this game to be the last team standing, then you shouldn’t be playing at all.
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“That should be our goal every single year.”
Rendon is one of few players in the Angels’ clubhouse who knows what it feels like to be on that last team.
He played a vital role in the Washington Nationals’ World Series championship in 2019, a year during which he also collected his second Silver Slugger award, was an All-Star, was voted All-MLB first team and MLB Players Choice NL outstanding player of the year, among other accomplishments.
And this year, so far, has felt more normal for Rendon, who had his best spring training of his career. Through 15 games, he batted .500 with a 1.367 on-base-plus-slugging rate.
“I think it hit me late January, early February,” Rendon said. “I was in the cage, I just had a workout and it just came to me. I was like, ‘Man, it actually feels like I’m training again for spring, not necessarily rehab for the next season.’
“Two surgeries, two years, every offseason was like, ‘All right, I have to rehab, I’m going in not 100%, I’m trying to get back to it,’ ” he said. “And there was a point this past offseason I felt like I was actually preparing for the next season instead of just trying to get healthy for next season.”
Rendon said he thought his spring went well, but he acknowledged the double-edged sword how numbers can be touted by some and shrugged off by others because they weren’t earned against regular-season competition.
For manager Phil Nevin — who envisioned in February and probably will likely roll out a lineup topped by Taylor Ward, Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and Rendon on opening day and beyond — the strength Rendon carries going into Game 1 of 162 is unmistakable.
“More so than just health, I mean you watch him and he’s able to make swings that he hasn’t been able to make in a couple of years,” Nevin said. “We saw that early in spring and it’s continued through camp.”
In a game, a healthy Rendon’s presence is an undeniable boon. Last season, the Angels were riding high in the American League West before Rendon suffered a partially dislocated tendon in his wrist. His teammates know what having him in the lineup means.
“Tony is our anchor,” Ward said. “He is, I think, one of the biggest pieces we have and I know we have so many pieces, but keeping him healthy all year I think will be the difference maker for us.”
“I don’t want to say having him changes our whole team, but it makes us a lot better,” relief pitcher Aaron Loup said. “Corner, third base is a big spot. Especially for me. I get a lot of balls hit down that line there, it seems.”
The Angels, depending on which fans or baseball pundits you poll, are either still underdogs or the team not to be overlooked this season.
There’s also the narrative that the Angels are facing a World Series or bust year, with another season of Ohtani, Trout and Rendon together not guaranteed. But that’s not a pressure Rendon said the team feels from the outside.
“I love the fact that we’re just flying under the radar,” Rendon said, “that we’re just going to do our thing and we want to be on top at the end of the year.
“We want to surprise a lot of people.”
And he’s as excited as he has been in his career to open a new season.
“Anytime you make an opening day, it’s special,” Rendon said. “It’s a big achievement. So for the young guys and even for a guy like me that’s been here for a while, you still get butterflies. You still enjoy the moment.”
Source: LA Times