By Pedro Moura
FOX Sports MLB Writer
Eight weeks ago, Mike Frostad, the Angels’ head athletic trainer, met with beat reporters before a game in Kansas City to provide an update on the team’s superstar player.
Two weeks earlier, Mike Trout had been placed on the injured list because of back spasms, an injury the team said should not keep him out long. One week in, he received a cortisone shot in the affected area. Further testing later revealed that the condition was far more severe than back spasms; it was costovertebral dysfunction at the T5 vertebra.
When Frostad mentioned this that day in Missouri, he also provided a stark assessment of the likelihood that the injury would linger. He said the club had to have some concern that Trout would be out long term.
“We do have to look at this as something that — he has to manage it. Not just through the rest of this season but also through the rest of his career probably,” Frostad told reporters.
That remark sparked a cyclone of concern for Trout from fans, friends, family and peers. Frostad did not exactly say that Trout would be diminished whenever he returned from this uncommon injury, but people certainly inferred as much.
By the time the day’s game was over, Trout was so inundated with feedback and well wishes that he felt compelled to address the matter with reporters. Notably, he did not deny the diagnosis. But he said his back was improving every day, and he expressed certainty that he would play again in 2022 and move past the injury in the years to come.
It took Trout three more weeks to get back on the field, but he seems to be managing the condition pretty well since his return. His OPS in that stretch is well over 1.000. Earlier this month, he challenged the sport’s record for consecutive games with a home run. There are no signs that his reign as a dominant hitter is nearing its end.
So what happened? Perhaps a rare reversal. While teams underplay injuries all the time, it’s unusual to witness a club overstate one, especially in the case of a star. But it’s also rare for medical staffers to directly address injuries with reporters. In fact, many organizations expressly prohibit medical staffers from speaking to reporters.
Mike Trout homers for sixth straight game
Watch as Mike Trout hits his sixth home run in six straight games earlier this month.
A significant element of a manager’s job these days is announcing (i.e. downplaying) the injuries that have befallen his players since the last time he addressed the media. In those cases, it’s common for a manager to defer to the nearest media-relations staffer when posed a particularly specific question to which he does not know the answer. Medical staffers can easily provide more specificity, but they also have far less media training.
But a few managers, in recent seasons, have pushed for those specialists to regularly speak on medical matters. With the Angels, the practice began under Joe Maddon, who had already been fired by the time Frostad spoke about Trout.
The mix-up was complicated by the fact that injuries have suddenly started to affect the trajectory of Trout’s career after he appeared immune for years. Until Trout tore his thumb on a head-first slide in May 2017, he said the most significant injury of his life had been a strained hamstring that cost him six games. He had played 157 or more games in four consecutive seasons.
He hasn’t cleared 140 in any year since, and he missed more than 100 because of injuries last year. Add the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, and Trout’s path to one of the most productive careers in the sport’s history has been disrupted.
Will that disruption be for good, or can he course-correct? When Frostad spoke in Kansas City, the answer looked to be the former. But Trout has since demonstrated the same skills he has long had. He has implicitly asserted that he can get back on track. The issue is health, which requires good fortune but also diligent maintenance.
Read one way, Frostad’s comments could have been intended to induce just that from the 31-year-old superstar. If that was his intention, Trout received the message.
“I think that’s what [Frostad] was initially getting at: keeping a routine so it doesn’t come back,” Trout later told reporters. “Once you let it settle down and let the inflammation get out of there and build the muscles up around it, I think it should be good.”
At this point, there is no reason to doubt Trout. The Angels, recently eliminated from postseason contention once again, are another question altogether. But Trout has clearly shown that he can be great again in 2023 and beyond. The Angels are approaching an offseason in which they will have to consider trading Shohei Ohtani, but at least they know that.
Pedro Moura is the national baseball writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the Dodgers for The Athletic, the Angels and Dodgers for the Orange County Register and L.A. Times, and his alma mater, USC, for ESPN Los Angeles. He is the author of “How to Beat a Broken Game.” Follow him on Twitter @pedromoura.
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