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OC Register: Angels’ Taylor Ward still getting a crash course with the outfield fence


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SEATTLE — A day after Taylor Ward made a nice catch just as he crashed into the outfield fence, he said he’s finally over the fear of the wall from last year’s collision.

That’s not such a good thing, though.

The Angels left fielder, whose struggled for three months last season because of a shoulder injury suffered after hitting the wall, said ideally he will have a healthy awareness of where the wall is, without the fear of hitting it.

“It’s getting better,” he said. “Slowly but surely. Still not 100% comfortable. I don’t think I ever will be. That will continue to drive the progression to get better. So far so good. It’s cool to see some of your hard work paying off. That was fun last night.”

The Angels were trailing 3-0 in the bottom of the fourth when Seattle Mariners catcher Tom Murphy hit a fly ball down the left-field line. Ward raced into foul territory and leaped, making the catch just before hitting the wall.

“I still have that instinct to go get it,” Ward said Wednesday. “I kind of knew I was approaching the wall because everything starts coming into your peripheral vision. I still think I can have a better process while approaching the wall.”

Ward said his goal is to get better at “peeking at the wall” more often, so he knows where he is at all times.

But it’s better than it was last year, when he was too aware of the wall.

“I don’t have nearly as much fear as I had after last year,” he said. “I think that’s gone away. Just trying to get better at peeking.”

It’s understandable that Ward would have some reluctance to hit the wall after the impact the collision had on him last year. Ward was one of the best stories in baseball, with an OPS of 1.194 at the time of the incident May 20.

Ward made the catch but suffered a stinger, which is an irritation of the nerve running from his neck through his shoulder. It wasn’t enough to send him to the injured list, but it sapped him of strength and bat speed. Ward had a .602 OPS over his next 68 games. The strength finally came back at the end of the season, and he finished with a .963 OPS in his final 37 games.

Ward believes if he can stay healthy all season, he can be that player for the entire six months. A few games into the season, he has two homers with an OPS of 1.197.

Manager Phil Nevin has said repeatedly he believes Ward can be an elite player, in the same “category” as Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani.

“We’ve talked about this for a long time. I put him right in the category with the two guys behind him, really three guys behind (including Anthony Rendon) him on most days,” Nevin said. “He’s in that conversation. He really is. I think he’s in the bunch of really, really good players, game-changing players in this game, in that MVP conversation with the other two guys behind him.”

READY FOR THE SHOW

Left-hander Patrick Sandoval is excited for his start in the Angels’ home opener Friday.

“It’s the stadium I grew up going to,” said Sandoval, a product of Mission Viejo High. “To be able to pitch the home opener is pretty cool. It’s awesome.”

Sandoval has had a big four-week stretch, including starts for Mexico against the United States and Japan in the World Baseball Classic. He gave up one run in those two starts combined.

“I think it was a good little taste of what this would be, what the postseason would be like,” Sandoval said. “Really good experience overall for my development.”

Sandoval gave up one run on two hits in five innings of his season debut Saturday in Oakland. He threw 86 pitches.

“I didn’t feel my stuff was as sharp as it has been,” Sandoval said. “Definitely more inconsistent with the changeup again, trying to dial that in for this next one. The same with the slider. The shapes were a little inconsistent as well. Other than that, I really liked to how the curveball played. I was happy with both fastballs. I could locate them a little better. The velo was alright. The next one should be a little better.”

NOTES

Left-hander Tucker Davidson has not pitched since Saturday, so if he doesn’t get into a game soon, the Angels will need to do some extra pregame work with him to keep him fresh. Davidson is a candidate to start next Wednesday. Nevin said if Davidson pitches this weekend against the Toronto Blue Jays, he could potentially still start next Wednesday, but with a more limited pitch count. …

Nevin said he was prepared to use outfielder Brett Phillips to pitch the end of Tuesday’s game if Jaime Barría had gotten into trouble in the bottom of the eighth. Barria ended up getting through the inning with 11 pitches, finishing with 56.

UP NEXT

Angels (LHP Patrick Sandoval, 1-0, 1.80) vs. Blue Jays (TBD), 6:38 p.m. Friday, Angel Stadium, Bally Sports West, 830 AM.

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