The one player the Angels can least afford to lose — on the field and at the box-office — will be out for six to eight weeks, the estimated timetable for star center fielder Mike Trout to recover from surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb.
Trout, considered the best all-around player in baseball, jammed his thumb into second base on a head-first slide in the fifth inning of Sunday’s game at Miami. Initial X-rays for fractures were negative, but an MRI test on Monday revealed a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament.
Trout will undergo surgery on Wednesday, ending his string of playing in five consecutive All-Star games and likely torpedoing the team’s already slim playoff hopes.
“This team will continue to fight, as it always does, but you’re losing the heart of your order, the middle of your defense and a leader in the dugout,” general manager Billy Eppler said before Monday night’s 6-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves at Angel Stadium. “It’s really hard to quantify, but I think you’ll feel the impact.”
Trout, 25, opted for surgery after consulting with Dr. Steven Shin on Monday night. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons had surgery for a similar injury last season and missed five weeks. Washington outfielder Bryce Harper had surgery to repair the same ligament in 2014 and missed eight weeks.
“He’s a guy who’s at the top of his game right now — what he’s doing this season is unbelievable — and to be sidelined in the middle of it is tough,” right fielder Kole Calhoun said. “Nobody wants this, but Mike’s good at everything. He’ll probably be good at rehab, too.”
Trout, a two-time American League most valuable player and three-time runner-up, had been having perhaps his best season, batting .337 with an AL-leading 1.203 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He ranks second in the league with 16 homers and has 36 RBIs, 36 runs and 10 stolen bases.
He’s an elite defender, capable of running down balls in the gaps and robbing opponents of home runs with leaping catches above the wall.
Even with Trout, the Angels entered Monday ranked 14th in the league in OPS (.692), tied for ninth in runs (213) and tied for 13th in average (.236). Calhoun (.205, five homers, 16 RBIs), Danny Espinosa (.141, four homers, 15 RBIs) and Luis Valbuena (.173, three homers, 10 RBIs) are having particularly rough years.
“Even with everything Mike was doing, we were not firing on all cylinders,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “If guys start doing some of the things they can do, I think we’ll be able to absorb a lot of that. You’re not gonna replace what Mike brings to the lineup, but as a whole, one through nine, we’re gonna have to.”
“He’s the best player in the game, and any time he’s not in our lineup, it’s a big loss,” Simmons said of Trout. “We just have to go out there and play, do the little things right, move guys over, bring them in, catch the ball. Pitchers, just keep us in the game and give us a chance.”
Trout, who was unavailable to reporters Monday, is the 12th Angels regular to go on the DL this season, joining front-line pitchers Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Cam Bedrosian and Huston Street and third baseman Yunel Escobar.
“The list goes on and on, but nobody is gonna feel sorry for us,” slugger Albert Pujols said. “We just have to try to compete with the team we have.”
If there is some good news, it’s that surgeries to repair torn thumb ligaments have “a very high success rate,” Eppler said. The bad news? Many believe such an injury can be avoided.
Sliding head-first is far more dangerous than sliding feet-first, exposing players to potential hand, wrist and finger injuries, but Trout has always had excellent body control and has been one of the best in baseball at timing and executing head-first slides.
Both Eppler and Scioscia said they are reluctant to urge or insist that Trout scrap his head-first slides in favor of feet-first slides.
“I’ve seen many, many players preferring to slide head-first, especially the fast guys,” Eppler said. “I think it’s really hard when something is instinctual. We talk about feet-first sliding in the minor leagues, but at end of the day, a player has to do what’s comfortable.”
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