It was the first time in a while that fans at Angel Stadium heard the opening tune of “Super Gremlin” for a Mike Trout at-bat. The three-time most valuable player, with a helmet on his head, an extra-padded batting glove on his left hand and a bat in the other, approached the plate. The crowd serenaded him with cheers.
The Angels’ star center fielder, whose return had been anticipated since he had surgery to remove a fractured hamate bone last month, was activated off the injured list and returned in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.
“Long time coming, just real excited to get out there with the guys,” Trout said before the game.
His first at-bats resulted in a pop out, a double play and a strikeout before his first hit, a single, in the bottom of the eighth inning. An immediate return to smashing home runs was not really to be expected. He faced just one day of live pitching, last week, in his ramp-up to return.
More important than what Trout can do for the club, however, is how the club can finish the remaining 36 games. Trout rejoined an Angels team that is 61-65 and 10 games behind the Seattle Mariners for the final American League wild-card spot.
He worked to return as quickly as he did in the hopes of being helpful to a team fading fast in the playoff picture.
“Anything can happen,” Trout said. “We’re not out of it. You never know. We’ve seen some crazy stuff.”
Lucas Giolito had one of his better starts since joining the Angels ahead of the trade deadline, despite his final line. He pitched six innings, with four runs, though just one earned, on five hits and two walks with nine strikeouts.
“I like the way that I threw the ball,” Giolito said. “I think that [rookie catcher Logan O’Hoppe] and I had a nice game plan going in and we were able to adjust … Unfortunate how it played out, but it happens.”
The unearned runs happened in the fifth after a costly fielding error by rookie first baseman Nolan Schanuel enabled two runners to score and tie the game. However, Schanuel was playing just his fourth major league game, drafted out of college on July 9 and called up out of necessity by the Angels with C.J. Cron on the IL and limited options at first.
“Sometimes people want to point the finger at the error,” Giolito said, “but there’s a lot of things I could have done better to even avoid that situation.”
Added manager Phil Nevin: “He feels awful for what happened and we’re not putting this on him.”
The Reds took the lead soon after, with rookie Elly De La Cruz, who has shined particularly with his speed on the basepaths, scoring easily from first on a double.
The Angels, for their part, scored on home runs by Brandon Drury, Mike Moustakas and O'Hoppe, his first since returning from the IL on Aug. 18.
“We had chances to score,” Nevin continued. “The three home runs were good, but only three other hits besides that. And we were really scattered around. There was no traffic, we didn’t put any pressure on their defense nor their pitching. So, to me, that’s what it came down to.”
Playing through pain
Trout had been sidelined since July 5, when he opted to have surgery on the broken hamate bone in his left hand, an injury he suffered taking a swing during a game in San Diego. He missed 38 games and worked to return to the lineup as quickly as possible. The typical return time from the injury is six to eight weeks.
Trout understands his return requires being able to tolerate an ever-present ache in his wrist. That was to be expected, and Trout reaffirmed that he would not have returned unless he could tolerate it.
“Talked to some doctors and they told me that I can’t injure it more,” Trout said. “I’d be lying to you if I said I’m not feeling anything in the hand right now. So just going in there and being cautious, coming to get treatment every day, trying to keep the soreness down.”
The additional padding in his batting glove gives him added cushion on his wrist. He compared what he’ll continue to feel the rest of the season to having a bone bruise.
“Obviously if you have time off it’s going to heal a lot faster,” Trout said. “I guess you would say, when they took the bone out, it’s like a big bone bruise. If you keep messing with it, it’s gonna get irritated, but the soreness right now, it’s bearable and I can go out there and play.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.