The Angels moved Taylor Ward into the leadoff spot Monday night, believing the table-setting skills he displayed while accumulating a .528 on-base percentage and 10 walks in his first eight games would be a good fit ahead of Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout in the lineup.
“Yeah, they didn’t clarify that,” Ward said, when reminded that a leadoff hitter’s job is to get on base. “Maybe tomorrow.”
Ward smacked a solo home run to right-center field in the fifth inning and a two-run shot to left-center in the seventh to lead the Angels to a 3-0 victory over the Cleveland Guardians in a brisk 2 hours and 22 minutes before a crowd of 23,099 in Angel Stadium.
“I just wanted him to get on base,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “I said nothing about cleaning them up.”
The Angels took a 1-0 lead in the fifth when Ward hit a full-count fastball from Shane Bieber, the 2020 American League Cy Young Award winner, off the high wall in right-center field for a solo homer, the ball barely clearing the glove of leaping center fielder Myles Straw.
Max Stassi led off the seventh with a single and took second on Tyler Wade’s sacrifice bunt. Ward then worked another full count from Bieber before tearing into an 85-mph cut-fastball that was right over the heart of the plate.
“It’s cool — honestly, I had no idea,” Ward said of his first career multihomer game. “I just found two barrels and got lucky with it.”
Maddon and pitcher Michael Lorenzen, who fought through control problems to throw six shutout innings in which he allowed three hits, struck out three and walked four, said Ward’s success has little to do with luck.
“It’s incredible,” Lorenzen said. “His at-bats are some of the best I’ve ever seen, to be honest. Even in spring training, his takes were incredible. If I were to start hitting again, I’d probably try to be like him. It’s been a huge eye-opener for me to watch him go about his business.”
Ward was a first-round pick of the Angels in 2015, but he bounced between triple A and the big leagues from 2018-2021, playing in only 159 games for the Angels. But he has always shown good plate discipline, and he has grown even more comfortable going deeper into counts.
“He’s had a really good track record historically,” Maddon said. “The thing is, it doesn’t bother him [to go deep into counts]. He’s just looking for good pitches to hit. Bieber got him to chase a couple of early, which you don’t normally see him do, but then he eventually figured him out.
“But the count doesn’t matter. He’s gonna get that same A hack off, and he’s going to normally lay off the bad pitches and swing at the good ones, and that’s what he did tonight.”
After Ward’s first homer, Cleveland threatened in the top of the sixth when Amed Rosario led off with a double off the left-center field wall and Jose Ramirez walked.
But Lorenzen rebounded from a three-ball count to strike out Franmil Reyes with a nasty full-count, 93-mph sinker, the Guardians designated hitter smashing his bat into the ground in frustration, and got Josh Naylor to ground sharply to shortstop Wade, who started an inning-ending double play.
“Yeah, you can’t allow that to turn into a bigger inning,” Lorenzen said. “So I just I trusted my sinker and I just kept throwing it to Franmil, and thankfully I was able to get the strikeout.”
The Angels failed to cash in on Mike Trout’s leadoff check-swing triple that snuck by first baseman Owen Miller and rolled down the right-field line in the bottom of the sixth.
With the infield in, Jared Walsh and Anthony Rendon both grounded out to second, Trout holding at third. Matt Duffy walked and took second on a wild pitch, but Jo Adell popped out to first to end the inning.
But Ward gave the Angels more breathing room with his second homer, and Mike Mayers, Ryan Tepera and Raisel Iglesias each threw perfect relief innings to close out the win.
Ward also made a nice play in the right field, ranging into the gap and toward the wall to catch Straw’s drive with a runner on first base and no outs in the third.
“I think that was a huge play in the game for me, as well, because that’s probably a run, and it’s a 1-1 game, and you know the at-bats are going to be different,” Lorenzen said. “So Taylor, in more ways than one, won the game for us tonight.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.