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‘Holds us accountable’: As Angels start over, players trust Phil Nevin

This spring training has given Phil Nevin, fully entrenched as manager of the Angels, a lot of firsts.

There was their first press conference in Tempe, Arizona, after the pitchers and catchers reported to camp. There was his first game of the Cactus League, in Peoria, in front of the team. There was his first speech to the team before the first training sessions with the full team.

“I guess I’ve only been thinking about it for about 20 years,” Nevin quipped of the time. Nevin was the Angels’ third base coach when he was promoted to interim manager in June following the firing of Joe Maddon. In October, he was awarded a one-year contract for the position by 2023.

There were glimpses of what the clubhouse was like when Nevin took over in the middle of last season. Starting anew this year, however, it’s clear what the foundation of his team is with his hopes of building the next winning era of Angels baseball.

“The record was what it was at one point,” Nevin said of last season, “but you went into that room…they were practicing to play, they expected to win every day. Playing .500 the last 60 games. It’s a credit to what that room is. That room is going to be even stronger this year.”

The Angels went 46-60 under Nevin, splitting their last 60 games.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing him grow,” Nevin said of the team’s culture, “to see those relationships build, and that room is going to be a lot of fun and winning is obviously fun as well. So it goes together, but even last year that room was a lot of fun. Through the ups and downs, nothing affected them… and I’m proud of that fact and it’s not going to change.”

The foundations of the Nevin clubhouse for the 2023 season are unity, camaraderie and communication, indicative traits of the players that make it up.

Take, for example, new veteran pitcher Carlos Estevez. General manager Perry Minasian said in the offseason that the reliever’s skills were intriguing, but his personality made him a good choice for the clubhouse. During spring training, when he’s not participating in baseball activities, Estevez can often be seen advising or joking with the other pitchers in his squad or even other players near his locker room.

All the players share a laid-back but focused way about them, words infielder David Fletcher used to describe the clubhouse. They don’t all work in the same groups on a regular basis because pitchers and catchers have different hours than position players, but they all seem to be friends.

It is a symbiotic energy. And it’s reciprocated not only by the players, but also by the manager who spent 12 years in the major leagues, having had so many other coaches and coaching mentors and friends, like Cal State Fullerton coach Augie Garrido (who died in 2018 ) and New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone in his lifetime, who helped shape his style now.

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

Nevin genuinely cares about his players and not just in the moments you see on TV when he runs off the bench to check on an injured player.

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

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

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

At camp, you are never limited to your starters. He is constantly on the move to watch and talk to all the players, some who are there to develop, some who are trying to get a spot in the big leagues.

Top catching prospect Logan O’Hoppe, who made his debut with the Angels toward the end of last season and is aiming to break camp with the major league team this year, described the manager as someone who tells players not what they want to hear, but what they need to hear.

It is not a reprimand. It’s just being real.

“It’s tougher,” 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 amazing.”

Or as bench coach Ray Montgomery said, “If we’re going to preach by doing winning things, if we’re going to preach by trying to win today, tomorrow, next week, then it starts with what we’re doing here.”

That’s where focus comes into play. Rendon spent most of his offseason in Texas trying to prepare for spring. Jo Adell never took a day off after the end of last season and has been in Arizona ever since.

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

When Nevin was named coach for the 2023 season, the players had their back.

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 man” for the team. Two-way star Shohei Ohtani said Nevin “gave it his all” after taking on the role of manager under difficult circumstances.

The respect and trust he has was not only given to him, but earned and continues to be earned from newcomers to the clubhouse and coaching staff.

“Even though he has kind of experiential players loose,” 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 wants to have fun. doing it.

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