Mike Trout says WBC reminded him 'how bad we want to get back to the playoffs'

·6 min read
United States' Mike Trout celebrates his three-run home run against Canada during the first inning.
Mike Trout celebrates after hitting a three-run home run against Canada in the World Baseball Classic on March 13. (Godofredo A. Vásquez / Associated Press)

Mike Trout’s ears were probably still ringing from the roar of the LoanDepot Park crowd after his World Baseball Classic-ending strikeout on Tuesday night when, on the bus ride back to the Team USA hotel in Miami, he sent a text message to Angels manager Phil Nevin.

“I told him, ‘I needed this, I needed to play in this atmosphere, I needed to experience it and be in the moment,’” Trout said before Sunday night’s Freeway Series exhibition opener against the Dodgers in Chavez Ravine. “It just made me think how bad we want to get back to the playoffs.”

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The WBC did not end the way Trout hoped it would, the three-time American League most valuable player losing an epic battle against Angels two-way teammate Shohei Ohtani, who struck out Trout swinging to close out Japan’s 3-2 championship-game win.

But if there was one thing Trout’s WBC experience reinforced, it was his desire to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, when the Angels were swept in a three-game division series by Kansas City. The Trout-led Angels have endured seven straight losing seasons, even with Ohtani for the last five of them.

“Anything less than the playoffs,” Trout said, “is a disappointment.”

The WBC gave Trout and several Angels teammates — Ohtani, pitcher Patrick Sandoval and reliever José Quijada, to name a few — a taste of what an October atmosphere would be like.

“It was probably the coolest experience I’ve ever had on a baseball field,” Trout said. “That’s the atmosphere, as a baseball fan or as a competitor, that you want to play in. You want to be in that moment. It was just a special few days.”

Even if the highly-anticipated ending was a little rough for Trout, who swung through a pair of triple-digit fastballs before whiffing on Ohtani’s full-count, 87-mph slider off the plate. Only 24 times in 6,174 career plate appearances has Trout swung through three strikes, according to Codify Baseball.

“It was a fun at-bat,” Trout said. “I had one thing on my mind, trying to barrel up a ball. Obviously, with Shohei, he’s got all his pitches, and everything’s moving every which way. And you know, he didn’t throw me a splitter that whole at-bat. It was in the back of my mind, and then he threw me a nasty 3-and-2 slider.”

Trout and Ohtani came face to face for the first time since their showdown in the visiting clubhouse in Dodger Stadium on Sunday afternoon. There was no trash talk. Or awkward silence.

Angels teammates Shohei Ohtani, left, and Mike Trout jog back to dugout.
Angels teammates Shohei Ohtani, left, and Mike Trout jog back to dugout against the Detroit Tigers in September. (Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

“I gave him a hug,” Trout said. “It was good. I’m happy he’s my teammate. He’s a special talent. He’s got great stuff.”

The Angels have boosted their lineup and bolstered their depth with the additions of Hunter Renfroe, Brandon Drury and Gio Urshela, and corner infielders Anthony Rendon and Jared Walsh are healthy. They added All-Star left-hander Tyler Anderson to the rotation and potential closer Carlos Estévez to the bullpen. And they still have two of the best players in baseball in Ohtani and Trout.

“I’ve been asked the question all the time, is this the year?” Nevin said. “I think any time you have a roster like ours and you have expectations within our room like we do, every day is a sense of urgency. If we don’t, then I think you’re doing your teammates, the fans, the organization, an injustice.”

Clayton Kershaw shines

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws to the plate during the first inning.
Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw delivers during a 3-0 exhibition win Sunday over the Angels at Dodger Stadium. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw was dominant in his final exhibition tuneup, blanking the Angels on three hits, striking out seven and walking none in a 3-0 victory over the Angels that took a mere 2 hours 8 minutes.

“How fast was that game tonight? That was nuts,” said Kershaw, who had two pitch-clock violations. “Hopefully, they sell enough beer.”

Kershaw retired the first 11 batters, five by strikeout, before Ohtani singled to right field with two outs in the fourth. Kershaw gave up two-out singles to Urshela and Logan O’Hoppe in the fifth before getting Jeremiah Jackson to ground out.

Kershaw threw 74 pitches, 51 for strikes. His slider, which averaged 86.5 mph, was particularly effective, producing 10 swinging strikes.

“Overall, it was definitely better than it has been,” Kershaw said. “The slider was definitely better. I threw some bad ones too, but overall, the consistency was better, I finally got some swings and misses with it tonight; the fastball command was better. Definitely a step forward. It’s time to go.”

Roster moves

Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts, left, talks with Angels center fielder Mike Trout before a spring game on March 3.
Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts, left, talks with Angels center fielder Mike Trout before a spring game on March 3. (Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

The Dodgers’ opening-day roster seems a bit imbalanced, with six outfielders — Mookie Betts, Chris Taylor, Trayce Thompson, Jason Heyward, David Peralta and James Outman — and only four infielders, first baseman Freddie Freeman, second baseman Miguel Vargas, shortstop Miguel Rojas and third baseman Max Muncy.

But Taylor’s ability to play shortstop and third base and Betts’ ability to play second base eliminated the need for a traditional utility infielder. With three outfielders who hit from the right side and three from the left side, there will be plenty of platooning.

“I think we just went with the 13 best players, and we’ll figure out how we're going to divide up playing time,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I don't want to pin myself into a corner right now, but [some decisions will be determined by] matchups. There's keeping guys current by playing. There's a lot that's going to go into playing time.”

Left-hander Julio Urías will make the opening-day start against Arizona Thursday night, and he will be followed in the rotation by Dustin May, Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard and Ryan Pepiot.

The bullpen will consist of right-handers Evan Phillips, Brusdar Graterol, Yency Almonte, Phil Bickford, Andre Jackson and Shelby Miller and left-handers Alex Vesia and Caleb Ferguson.

Short hops

Muncy and Taylor opened the second inning with solo homers off Angels left-hander Tucker Davidson. … Rendon was not at the game, Nevin saying that Rendon’s daughter broke her arm. His daughter is expected to be OK. … Angels infielder David Fletcher received treatment in Anaheim after being scratched from Saturday’s Cactus League game because of abdomen/groin tightness. Nevin said that if he feels good, Fletcher will play Monday in Anaheim. … Angels catcher Max Stassi, who has been away from the team because of a family emergency, returned to the Angels’ Tempe, Ariz., facility to get ramped up for the season. He was the designated hitter in a minor league game but had to exit early after feeling something in his hip.

Staff writer Sarah Valenzuela contributed to this report. 

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.