Mike Trout's sublime talent defined his first decade in baseball. Injuries are the story now

Mike Trout still might be the greatest baseball player produced by his generation, but the torn meniscus in his left knee is his fourth major injury in the past four seasons

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Mike Trout never had a significant injury in his charmed baseball career until May 2017, when he tore a thumb ligament sliding headfirst into second base.

On his first day back from a 39-game absence, the superstar slugger stole second — and he slid headfirst again.

“I'm not changing the way I play,” a grinning Trout said that night in the Los Angeles Angels' clubhouse, a singular young athlete confident in his exceptionalism.

Less than seven years later in the hallway outside that same Anaheim clubhouse, Trout repeatedly fought back tears Tuesday while he publicly processed his fourth major injury in the past four seasons.

“It's just frustrating,” he said quietly, his eyes downcast. “But we'll get through it. ... I play the game hard, and (stuff) happens.”

Trout still might be the greatest baseball player produced by his generation, but he'll never again be that 25-year-old who seemed pretty sure he was invincible. Like Ken Griffey Jr. before him, Trout's mid-career injury problems have waylaid a meteoric career and stalled his historic rate of production at the plate.

The 32-year-old Trout’s talent and passion still shine when he’s on the field, but they haven’t kept him healthy in his second decade in baseball.

Since the start of the 2021 season, Trout has played in 266 games. The Angels’ meeting with Philadelphia on Wednesday will be the 251st game he has missed in that stretch.

Trout had 285 career homers when he won his third AL MVP award in 2019. The Angels' center fielder has hit just 93 homers in the four-plus seasons since then, with COVID-19 shortening his 2020 campaign and injuries doing the rest.

Trout had 1,324 hits after the 2019 season, but he has compiled just 324 since, greatly slowing his march toward 2,000 or 3,000. His batting average (.277) and OPS (.958) since 2019 are also significantly below his career marks.

While Trout's bat speed remains among the fastest in the majors, he has acknowledged several struggles with his mechanics for the past two seasons, including a declining contact rate and troubles with high-velocity pitching. Trout still led the majors with 10 homers when he got hurt this week, but his batting average was down to .220 — even dipping his career average below .300 shortly before his injury.

Trout now has a torn meniscus in his left knee. Compounding his frustration, he doesn't know how it happened — perhaps while running in the outfield, perhaps while simply walking to the dugout.

“Nobody wants to play more than Mike does,” Angels general manager Perry Minasian said. “He loves this. He loves everything about this. He wakes up thinking about it. He goes to bed thinking about it. He eats, sleeps and breathes baseball. I really feel for him.”

Trout was baseball’s breakout star of the 2010s, a strapping slugger from small-town southern New Jersey who dazzled the sport when he landed in Orange County. He's an electrifying hitter, an exciting fielder, and a fiery competitor often described as the spiritual heir to Mickey Mantle.

Trout seemed capable of anything, even if he only got the Angels to the playoffs once in 2014. But as the Halos' losing seasons piled up, he gradually became familiar with pain, sleepless nights and interminable medical procedures.

Trout missed all but 36 games of the 2021 season with a strained calf that healed confoundingly slowly. He missed five weeks of the 2022 season with a back injury, although he still hit 40 homers.

Trout then broke a bone in his hand on a foul ball last July 3. He tried to return in August when it briefly looked like the Angels might make a postseason run, but he played only one painful game before shutting it down for the year.

Trout had been in “a good frame of mind” this season, new Angels manager Ron Washington said. “He was loving coming to the ballpark, and he was loving going out there, trying to get in the swing of things of the season, and then this happened.”

The Angels have provided no timeline for Trout's recovery from surgery, but most athletes with the injury miss at least a couple of months, often more.

With or without Trout, the Angels are reeling.

The club lost Shohei Ohtani to a $700 million free-agent deal with the nearby Dodgers, and the front office signed no significant help for Trout. At 11-19 heading into May after losing 10 of 12, a 10th consecutive non-playoff season and a ninth straight losing season — both the longest active streaks in the majors — seem increasingly likely for the Halos.

Trout's injury problems have been crushing for his franchise — but so have the extensive injury woes of Anthony Rendon, the $245 million third baseman signed by owner Arte Moreno to provide Trout with a dynamic counterpart. Rendon is currently out with yet another injury, a hamstring tear that probably won’t heal quickly.

When Rendon arrived for the short 2020 season, Trout and Rendon played together 46 times in 60 games. Since then, the Angels’ two highest-paid players have appeared together in only 118 of the Angels’ 516 games (22.8%) from the start of the 2021 season.

Trout is older and more fragile than that golden youth of the previous decade, but he's also wiser: When he slides these days, he tries to go feet-first — and he wears a bulky sliding mitt.

His $426.5 million contract runs through 2030, and he has repeatedly said he isn't interested in leaving Anaheim. Trout still wants to turn the Angels into a winner, believing it will be even sweeter because it took so long.

But first, another surgery and another recovery await.

“It’s a pretty simple procedure,” Trout said. “I’ll have it right away and get back as fast as I can. (But) this is tough.”

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AP Sports Writer Joe Reedy contributed to this report.

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