Jared Walsh, feeling more like himself, returns for Angels

Jared Walsh has been waiting for this moment.

The Angels first baseman, who hit pause on his start to the season while trying to sort out what was causing him so much neurological anguish, finally found himself back in the big league lineup for Saturday night’s 6-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins at Angel Stadium.

Walsh drove in the Angels’ first run on a groundout in the fourth inning. He went 0 for 4 and struck out once but played solid defense at first base.

“Yeah, it was good,” Walsh said. “Really exciting. It felt a little foreign at first but as the game went on, got a lot more comfortable.”

Walsh is anticipating playing through rust at the plate and defensively. “It’s definitely a process and hopefully I keep on improving, but [I feel] a lot better than I felt last year, which is all I can ask for,” he said before the game.

“Been chomping at the bit to get back to playing baseball again and finally doing it.”

Walsh, after having the equivalent of an extended spring training starting the season on the injured list, is anticipating playing through some rust both at the plate and defensively. Phil Nevin expects the same thing, but the Angels manager sees Walsh’s return from the injured list as a big plus.

“We planned on him being our first baseman,” Nevin said. “It just wasn’t that way for the first month and a half. … We had plenty of guys that worked over there and filled in and did a fine job, but he’s been our guy and we expect him to be.”

There are no restrictions or limitations on Walsh for his return.

“He’s been full go and ready, just as he was if he were to start the season,” Nevin said. “My conversations with him is he’s back, he’s ready to go, he feels like himself.”

Walsh, for the better part of 1½ years has been dealing with neurological and vestibular issues, such as dizziness, confusion, fatigue, headaches and insomnia.

The Angels' Jared Walsh swings against Cleveland during a spring training game March 14, 2023, in Goodyear, Ariz.

The Angels’ Jared Walsh follows through on his swing against Cleveland on March 14 in Goodyear, Ariz. Walsh played during spring training but was on the IL to begin the season.

(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

“There was just kind of a general fogginess,” Walsh said of what playing in a game was like last season. “Trouble fixating my gaze with my eyes … and then just not really having a great idea of where my body was at in a space.

“Those are all things that I’ve made a lot of progress in.”

Walsh, an All-Star in 2021, played 118 games last season, hitting for the cycle in one Angels win, but his season was cut short after he needed surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome.

Walsh started this season on the IL despite having a strong spring training, wanting answers to his cognitive and vestibular problems. He found a clinic, with the help of his mother, Lisa, near the Angels’ triple-A facility in Salt Lake City. There, he found answers. The specialists surmised his symptoms were the result of contracting COVID three times, but they could not conclusively say that was the case.

Almost two months since he first went to that clinic, Walsh’s symptoms have eased significantly. He also has a much better understanding of how to manage the symptoms.

“When I knew something was wrong, I’d be walking and, like, bump into a wall,” Walsh said of his symptoms, “I’m like, ‘What am I doing?’ So, just being really clumsy all the time was really scary to me.”

Walsh explained that he has been using a Leif Therapeutics device, though he did not do so in any of his rehabilitation games. The device straps close to his ribs and measures his heart rate variability as part of his symptom management.

“If you’re getting to a point where you’re real foggy or I have a headache or I’m feeling really lethargic, it’s usually my heart rate variability is plummeting,” Walsh explained. “So what happens is if you go about breathing the right way, it kind of brightens up a little bit.

“I guess that’s one of the things that’s been weird to me. I didn’t notice, but throughout all this, my breathing patterns got thrown off in some way.”

At the clinic, Walsh was taught to take two to three minutes to breathe through those moments when his heart rate variability would go down.

And doctors have continued to be optimistic that one day those symptoms will completely subside.

“They keep saying, ‘You’re gonna be 100% good,’ and all that,” Walsh said. “So I’m gonna stay in touch with them, but hopefully [I’m symptom-free] sooner rather than later.”

The Angels' Shohei Ohtani watches his solo home run during the sixth inning May 20, 2023.

The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani watches his solo home run during the sixth inning Saturday night. The Angels lost 6-2 to Minnesota.

(Jessie Alcheh / Associated Press)