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Taylor Ward is impressing during Angels’ last-minute playoff push

The Angels' Taylor Ward follows through on a swing against the Texas Rangers on Sept. 10.
The Angels’ Taylor Ward follows through on a swing against the Texas Rangers on Sept. 10.
(Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

Outfielder Taylor Ward is putting together such a strong September that he has begun to replace top Angels prospect Jo Adell in the lineup. And that might not be a bad thing.

Although Adell’s major league career is off to an inauspicious start, the Angels are confident the 21-year-old, who entered the season as one of baseball’s most talented minor leaguers, will adjust his offensive approach and find success.

The Angels couldn’t be sure Ward, 26, would live up to his potential before he got hot this month.

Ward entered Friday batting .290 with four doubles and two triples in 25 games. After going two for four in Friday’s 6-2 win over the Texas Rangers, he improved his September batting average to .469 (15 for 32).

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His two hits were wrapped around another milestone for Albert Pujols, who slugged his 661st and 662nd home runs and passed Willie Mays (660) for fifth on the all-time list.

Angels manager Joe Maddon believes his team only needs a couple of solid pitchers to bolster the staff and make the team more competitive.

Ward, like Adell, was a first-round draft pick. But Ward, originally a catcher, stalled in the minor leagues because of his bat. The Angels chose in 2018 to move him out from behind the plate to spark improvement at it. He put it together quickly, batting .349 with 40 extra-base hits in 102 games, and earned his first major league call-up.

A key piece to Ward’s triumphs was a mechanical adjustment. He redesigned his swing so that the bat met the pitch on its path.

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But Ward struggled to replicate his minor league success during stints with the Angels in 2018 and ’19. He also went five for 34 in 14 games to start this season and was demoted in mid-August.

Ward credited most of his improvement to a sturdier mind-set. In the past, he became discouraged when he fouled off pitches and doubted his instincts.

“That is the biggest change in the box that I’ve made this year,” he said, “is sticking with [my] approach when things aren’t going your way.”

Manager Joe Maddon suggested Ward’s offense took off when he stopped thinking about the angle at which he hit baseballs.

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“Somebody wanted to teach him to lift the ball,” Maddon said. “And he got this thing that’s all over the internet that’s really horrible. … He had to get away from that.”

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Angels slugger Albert Pujols hits his 661st career home run.

Ward’s streak — Friday marked his seventh multi-hit game of the season — gives the Angels hope he can be a serviceable major leaguer in the future.

In the meantime, Maddon will keep Ward in the lineup. Friday’s victory moved the Angels to 3 1/2 games behind Houston for second place in the American League West.

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Short hops

Jaime Barria pitched six scoreless innings before being tagged for two runs in the seventh. After a down 2019, Barria has roared back with a 3.26 earned-run average in six outings. . . . Justin Upton took a 94-mph pitch off the helmet in the seventh and was down for a few minutes but walked off the field. Maddon said, “He was fine. ... We may have gotten lucky.” Upton will undergo additional tests Saturday.

Where Albert Pujols stands on the all-time home run list.
(Tim Hubbard / Los Angeles Times)


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