Press-Telegram (Long Beach)

Taylor Ward showing Angels his versatilit­y all over the diamond.

- By Jeff Fletcher jfletcher@scng.com @jefffletch­erocr on Twitter

Taylor Ward has gone from having no position to having five of them.

Ward started at catcher in Sunday’s game, the first time he started a big league exhibition behind the plate since before the Angels moved him off the position prior to the 2018 season.

It’s a sign that the club has shown increasing confidence in him behind the plate, as well as at first base and all three outfield positions.

Manager Joe Maddon said before Ward caught four uneventful innings on Sunday that Ward has made improvemen­ts in the outfield and he’s been impressed with the work he’s done behind the plate since the Angels reintroduc­ed him to the position in summer camp last year.

“I’m liking what I’m seeing,” Maddon said. “The big thing with him, moving it down the road, if catching becomes a part of his resume, this guy can stay in the business for a while.”

Ward, 27, was a firstround draft pick as a catcher in 2015. A few years into his career, though, the Angels decided his defense wasn’t good enough for him to be an everyday catcher in the majors. His bat also hadn’t developed as hoped.

They moved him to third. Being relieved of the mental and physical toll of catching, along with re-working his swing, contribute­d to a breakthrou­gh Triple-A season that got him to the big leagues in 2018.

But Ward struggled defensivel­y at third, so the Angels moved him again, to left field in 2019. And since then he’s kept adding positions, and returned to his old one.

“I love catching, I really do enjoy being a part of the team and engaged in the game from back there,” Ward said. “So wherever this takes me, I’m pretty excited. I do like catching. I miss catching. I’m happy to be back there.”

The ability to be the Angels’ third catcher would certainly enhance Ward’s chances of being a part of the 26-man roster. Although Maddon said he didn’t envision Ward starting games at catcher, having him available as a backup gives the team more flexibilit­y to pinchhit or pinch-run for the other catchers late in a game.

Ward still has a tough hill to climb to make the roster. They are likely to keep either Juan Lagares or Jon Jay as the fourth outfielder — because they are true center fielders — and they need to keep one of the middle infielders as the sixth infielder, with both Jared Walsh and Albert Pujols as first basemen. Add in two catchers and Shohei Ohtani, and that’s 13 position players. That leaves 13 pitchers, including five non-Ohtani starters and eight relievers.

All of that means if the Angels want to keep Ward, it would likely mean keeping just seven relievers, which is one fewer than what has become the norm in recent years. The Angels could do that because they have a handful of potential multi-inning relievers, such as Felix Peña, Junior Guerra, Jesse Chavez, Aaron Slegers and Jake Faria. Jaime Barria might also be a reliever if he’s not in the rotation. They could go with four of those pitchers, plus one-inning pitchers Raisel Iglesias, Alex Claudio and Ty Buttrey.

Ward would have to force the Angels to do that, not only by showing his defensive versatilit­y but also by continuing to hit.

Last season he made some changes to his swing, essentiall­y undoing the launch-angle type swing he’d developed in the minors. The flatter swing helped him lift his average to .277, but he did not hit any homers in 94 big league at-bats. He’d hit 27 homers at Triple-A in 2019.

Ward and Maddon believe a flatter swing can still produce homers in the big leagues, such as the opposite-field shot he hit last week.

“I think I do have power, not light tower power, of course, but enough power to hit what I need to, also including doubles, triples, singles,” he said. “I think with more reps, more atbats, more opportunit­ies, it will show and come out.”

Injury updates

The Angels added four pitchers to their injured list on Sunday, including one potentiall­y serious injury to a pitcher who wasn’t likely to make the big league team.

Brendan McCurry, a 29-year-old right-hander who has never pitched the majors, is seeking a second opinion for an undisclose­d right elbow injury.

Right-hander Luke Bard (right hip), left-hander Dillon Peters (back spasms) and right-hander Slegers (back spasms) are all day to day with their injuries.

Right-hander Gerardo Reyes, who suffered an ulnar collateral ligament injury in the Angels’ first game of the spring, is seeking a second opinion from noted orthopedis­t Dr. Neal El-Attrache.

Claudio, who had a hip infection when camp opened, continues to fully participat­e in workouts, but he hasn’t yet been cleared to pitch in a game.

In other injury news, outfielder Brandon Marsh was cleared to throw Sunday. Marsh has been limited to DH duty because of a minor arm issue.

 ?? MATT YORK — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Taylor Ward, the Angels’ first-round draft pick as a catcher in 2015, made the start behind the plate in Sunday’s Cactus League game against the Colorado Rockies.
MATT YORK — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Taylor Ward, the Angels’ first-round draft pick as a catcher in 2015, made the start behind the plate in Sunday’s Cactus League game against the Colorado Rockies.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA