It’s the kind of at-bat that would have probably ended in either a strikeout or an out last season for Trout, who won the 2014 American League most valuable player award despite leading the league with 184 strikeouts and hitting .215 on two-strike counts.
Qualls threw two nasty pitches, down and in, but Trout was able to foul off the 0-2 and 1-2 deliveries. Qualls then tried to go up and away with his next pitch but caught too much of the plate, and Trout lined it into the right-center-field seats for a three-run home run that gave the Angels a 6-3 victory in Minute Maid Park.
Trout also hit a two-run homer on a full-count pitch in the sixth inning to become the youngest player in major league history -- at 23 years 251 days old -- with 100 homers and 100 stolen bases.
Trout is batting .444 on the season and .400 (eight for 20) on two-strike counts. He says his new early-in-the-count approach is the reason he’s feeling more comfortable with two strikes.
“When I get aggressive early in the count, it gets me ready for pitches later in the at-bat, as opposed to just letting one go by,” Trout said. “When I’m up there, I’m looking to drive the ball. First pitch, second pitch, if I just get my pitch, I’m going to try to swing at it.”
Trout, who hit .287 with 36 homers, 111 RBIs and 115 runs last season, came to spring training determined to cut down on his strikeouts, but he said it took a month of exhibition games for him to get comfortable with the idea.
“It’s a mental thing, for sure,” Trout said. “You’re in the outfield and you say you’re going to go up there and drive that first pitch if you get it. But once you go up there you’re thinking you don’t want to do too much. Once I start thinking up there, I just take. Spring training definitely helped me, for sure.
“I’m trying to do damage early in the count. And I figured if I put more balls in play, I’d put more pressure on the defense and get on base more, for sure, instead of just walking back to the dugout.”
Trout’s approach is working well. In addition to his team-leading average, he is tied for the team lead with three homers and has a team-leading nine RBIs. He has seven strikeouts in 10 games. It’s a small sample size, for sure, but that would put him on a pace for 113 strikeouts.
Though Kole Calhoun had two hits and three runs, Jered Weaver delivered a quality start and Cesar Ramos preserved a tie score in the seventh by getting Jed Lowrie to ground into an inning-ending double play with runners on first and third, it was Trout who was the dominant force behind Friday night’s win.
Which is hardly a surprise for a player who finished second in MVP voting in his first two full big league seasons, won the award last year and could be a perennial MVP candidate for years to come.
“It’s not that Mike is going to jump higher, run faster or hit the ball farther,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “He just keeps on doing it. It’s spectacular what he does, but he does it consistently.”
Weaver said that nothing Trout does surprises him anymore.
“The guy is unbelievable -- he’s doing things that nobody has ever done before,” Weaver said. “It’s awesome to see. It’s fun to watch. I always tell everybody that what he does on the field is what it is, but what impresses me even more is how he goes about it off the field.
“He stays humble. He’s a little kid playing a grown man’s game. He loves playing. And he’s always striving to get better, which is kind of scary.”