Angels manager Brad Ausmus has never experienced as difficult a season as the one he is guiding his players through.
The death of Tyler Skaggs on July 1 dealt an emotional blow so forceful Ausmus strained, through tears, to speak publicly about the pitcher in a news conference the following day.
Add to that the boatload of injuries that rendered the Angels’ preseason plans useless and tanked their aspirations of completing the year with a winning record. Twenty-five players have spent at least 10 days sidelined. In the last week, the team has shut down sluggers Shohei Ohtani (surgery to address bipartite patella in his left knee), Justin Upton (patellar tendinitis in his right knee) and Mike Trout (Morton’s neuroma in his right foot). Before that, reliever Cam Bedrosian stopped trying to return from his strained right forearm, rookie pitcher Griffin Canning pulled the cord on his campaign because of recurring right elbow inflammation and right-hander Felix Pena had surgery to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
So when asked Tuesday at Yankee Stadium to describe his first season at the helm of the Angels, Ausmus, who managed the Detroit Tigers from 2014-2017 before taking the Angels job this season, needed only to pause a few seconds to find the most accurate word.
“Trying,” he said. “It’s a difficult season emotionally. It was a difficult season from an injury perspective and from a performance perspective.
“The number of injuries, the loss of Tyler, I can’t remember a season that compares to it.”
Ausmus was handed another challenge while the New York Yankees shut out the Angels 8-0. Rookie infielder Luis Rengifo hurt his left hand swinging at a 2-and-0 fastball by left-hander Stephen Tarpley. Grimacing, Rengifo dropped to one knee and the pain was so severe he immediately departed the game.
Standing in the clubhouse about an hour later, Rengifo struggled to curl his fingers. His swollen hand wasn’t numb, but the discomfort was severe.
It might end his rookie season.
“I’m not frustrated because I battled a lot this year,” Rengifo said in Spanish. “This happened today, but I need to recover so that I can come back next year with the same mentality.”
Rengifo has been in a funk at the plate since late July. He has hit .213 with 36 strikeouts in his last 44 games. When he is able to make contact, he strikes the ball with less force than he did in the first 245 plate appearances of his young career.
“He’s all season had ebbs and flows offensively where he’s looked really good and then looked like a young hitter,” Ausmus said. “We’ve seen that back and forth, which is normal for a guy at his age and having moved from A-ball to the big leagues in a little over a year.”
But Rengifo had never hinted at feeling sore while swinging right-handed or anything else that could have adversely affected his swing. The Angels chalked up his struggles to inexperience. It turns out Rengifo had felt something wrong in his hand for some time.
“I’ve been bothered by it,” he said, “but it wasn’t something that could take me out of the lineup.”
X-rays were negative, and Rengifo will find out more about the severity of his injury after undergoing a CT scan Wednesday. If he is shut down for the final 10 games, he will end the season with a .238 average and .364 slugging percentage in 108 games.