Within days of being sent back to the minor leagues two weeks before his 31st birthday, struggling Angels first baseman Justin Bour finally felt himself click at the plate.
In a hitter-friendly league, he batted .292 with six doubles, one triple and five home runs over 19 games with triple-A Salt Lake. He bolstered the line with 13 walks to 11 strikeouts in 85 plate appearances, a noticeable improvement over the numbers he carried through the 1 1/2 months of his 2019 campaign.
The Angels, lacking infield depth since rookie Jared Walsh was sent back to triple A a few days ago, saw enough progress to expedite Bour’s return to the major leagues. He was recalled Tuesday. He started at first base for the finale of the Freeway Series at Angel Stadium, giving Albert Pujols his first day off since last Thursday.
In his first at-bat, Bour hammered an 0-and-1 changeup from Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda for a three-run home run in the Angels' five-run first inning.
“Honestly, after a couple days, I felt like myself again,” Bour said, standing at a new locker in the Angels clubhouse. “I felt like I was swinging the bat relatively well.”
Bour’s cubicle here was disassembled weeks ago. Outfielder Cesar Puello, one of the many players who joined the Angels during Bour’s Salt Lake stint, was assigned to it at the start of this Angels homestand.
Puello has hit .455 with a 1.368 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in nine games. Bour didn’t even entertain the thought of asking for it.
“He’s raking,” Bour said, adding that he didn’t want to mess with anybody’s “mojo.”
After all, Bour has spent his entire time with the Angels seeking a hot streak of his own. He hit .163 with a .584 OPS and 31 strikeouts in 30 games before being optioned on May 15. While at it, he made embarrassing baserunning and fielding blunders.
The Angels signed Bour to a one-year, $2.5-million contract in the offseason in part because he had hit at least 20 home runs in three of his four full seasons in the majors. They counted on the slugger to provide similar thump. He hit only four homers in his first 112 plate appearances.
“I think I got too caught up in the mechanics and trying to be something I'm not,” Bour said. “I went down there to play the game of baseball and do what got me here in the first place.”