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OC Register: Taylor Ward returns to Angels with a more consistent swing


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Taylor Ward returned from Long Beach with a new approach at the plate.

Ward took a .147 average with him when the Angels shipped him back to the alternate training site in the middle of August, but since returning Sept. 3, he had eight hits in his first 15 at-bats, including seven in three games prior to Friday.

It earned Ward a start Friday over Jo Adell.

“He’s not just trying to lift the ball the whole time,” Manager Joe Maddon said before Friday’s game against the Rockies in Denver. “I think the opposite field has helped him out a little bit. He’s a little bit shorter to the ball. …

“He’s a first-grade athlete, all kinds of tools and ability, wonderful young man. He just had this little thing in his swing that’s really held him backward, where he lays back and tries to catch up and cuts underneath the ball a little bit. But man, if he gets this figured out, this guy could be a really good Major League Baseball player.”

Ward, 26, has never quite put things together in the big leagues, ever since a sizzling 2018 season at Triple-A earned him his first big-league promotion just over two years ago. He has a career .199 average with a .617 OPS.

Ward said he had tried to make swing adjustments last winter playing in the Dominican Republic and again during spring training, but each time the changes “didn’t work.”

Finally, working with the hitting coaches in Long Beach recently, he said he feels like it’s starting to click. He is keeping his head more still and being quicker to the ball. He also said getting more consistent at-bats in his current big-league stint has helped.

“It just all kind of compounds on itself,” Ward said. “If you can train and see pitches over and over and you have an approach and you know what you’re looking for, it makes it easier to take those pitches that they want you to swing at.”

Ward said he’s also enjoying his time in the outfield, after beginning his pro career as a catcher and then moving to third base. He’s lately been catching a little bit again, in order to provide some depth on the bench.

“Being drafted as a catcher, and catching my whole life, I do miss it,” Ward said. “Being able to get back behind the plate, putting the gear on again, it’s awesome… I love being a utility player. Anywhere Joe needs, for him or our team, I’m willing to do.”

BULLPEN SUCCESS

Since getting off to a rough start – he allowed six runs, four earned, in his first four games – Mike Mayers has quietly put together a strong season out of the Angels bullpen.

Mayers came into Friday’s game with a 2.81 ERA, including 24 strikeouts and four walks in 16 innings.

Maddon has been particularly pleased with his performance against lefties, who are just 3 for 30 with 13 strikeouts against him.

“He’s got the cutter slider that really gives left-handers a hard time and then the elevated fastball,” Maddon said. “He’s an assertive guy. He’s an aggressive guy, very durable. As you’ve seen, he’s able to come back the next day and and throw the same kind of numbers up that he did the day before. He’s absolutely underrated to this point.”

Mayers was claimed on waivers from the St. Louis Cardinals last winter. Mayers, 28, is arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason, under control for three more seasons.

ALSO

David Fletcher, who is on the injured list because of a sprained ankle, went through a full workout before Friday’s game and said he’s ready to be activated. “It’s feeling good,” he said. “I’m pretty much good to go. I’m hoping I can get in there tomorrow.” …

Justin Upton returned to the lineup Friday after missing the previous two games with a bruised left hand.

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