‘Holds us to account’: As Angels start fresh, players have put their trust in Phil Nevin

This spring training has given Phil Nevin, fully entrenched as the Angels’ manager, many firsts.

It was his first press conference in Tempe, Ariz., after reporting to pitchers and catchers camp. It was his first Cactus League game, in Peoria, leading the team. His first speech was before the first training sessions of the whole team.

“I guess I’ve only been thinking about it for about 20 years,” Nevin joked about the moment. Nevin became the Angels’ third manager when he was promoted to interim manager in June after Joe Maddon was fired. In October, he was given a one-year contract to work until 2023.

They saw what the club was like when Nevin took over midway through last season. Starting fresh this year, however, it’s clear what the foundations of his team are as they look to complete the next winning era of Angels baseball.

“It was a record at one point,” Nevin said of last season, “but you walked in that room … they were practicing playing, expecting to win every day. .500 the last 60 games. It’s a credit to that room. That room it will be even stronger this year.”

The Angels went 46-60 under Nevin, splitting the final 60 games.

“I’m looking forward to seeing it grow,” Nevin said of the team culture, “seeing those relationships form, and that room is going to be a lot of fun and obviously it’s going to be fun to win. So it kind of goes hand in hand, but that room was also a lot of fun last year it was. Through the ups and downs, nothing affected them… and I’m proud of that and it won’t change.”

The foundations of Nevin’s club for the 2023 season are unity, camaraderie and communication, qualities of its players.

Take, for example, new veteran pitcher Carlos Estévez. General manager Perry Minasian said this offseason that the reliever’s skills were intriguing, but that his personality was a good fit for the club. During spring training, when not participating in baseball activities, Estévez can usually be seen mentoring or joking with other pitchers on his team or other players near his locker.

All the players share a loose but focused way about themselves, the words that outfielder David Fletcher used to describe the club. They don’t all work on the same teams regularly because pitchers and catchers have different schedules than position players, but they all seem to be friends.

It is a symbiotic energy. And it’s not just the players, but the coach who spent 12 years in the major leagues, who has had so many other coaches and mentors and friends — Cal State Fullerton coach Augie Garrido (who died in 2018) and New York. Yankees manager Aaron Boone – who helped shape his style in his life today.

“He’s definitely a player’s coach,” infielder Jared Walsh said of Nevin.

Nevin really cares about his players and not just the moments you see on TV when an injured player comes out of the box for a check.

Nevin invited some former Angels players to spring camp — including Tim Salmon, Troy Percival and Darin Erstad — to help guide and inspire his current team. He texts his players when they’re away, like in the offseason, to check in on them and make sure they’re doing well.

Angels manager Phil Nevin (88) congratulates pitcher Shohei Ohtani after a 7-1 win over the Houston Astros on July 13.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

In the camp, he is never around his starters. He’s constantly on the move to observe and talk to all the players, some in development, others trying to make it to the major leagues.

Top catcher Logan O’Hoppe – who debuted with the Angels late last season and is looking to break camp with the big league team this year – described the coach as someone who tells players what they don’t want to hear. what they need to hear

It’s not a scolding. It’s just being real.

“It’s more expensive,” third baseman Anthony Rendon said, comparing Nevin as a third base coach to Nevin as a manager. “He’s holding us accountable, and I think that’s awesome.”

Or as coach Ray Montgomery said, “If we’re going to preach winning things, if we’re trying to win today, tomorrow, next week, we’re going to start with the things we’re doing here.”

That’s where the focus comes in. Rendon spent the offseason in Texas trying to get ready for the spring. Jo Adell never took a day off after last season and has been in Arizona ever since.

Most of the players on the spring training roster arrived before the final position player report date. At camp, everyone knows exactly why they are there. to work

When Nevin was named manager for the 2023 season, the players agreed.

Outfielder Mike Trout said they trusted Nevin. “Nev knows the game. He worked hard to get here. It means a lot to him. It means a lot to us,” he said. Catcher Max Stassi called him “the right guy” on the team. Two-way star Shohei Ohtani said Nevin “gave it his all” after stepping into the manager’s role under difficult circumstances.

The respect and trust he has was not just given, it was earned, and he continues to earn it from new arrivals to the club and coaching staff.

“Even though he has the loose ways of an experienced player,” Montgomery said, “I think there’s also that point where they see his competitive side, how he cares and how he wants to win games and have fun doing it.

“I think he can carry that line pretty well.”

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