Taylor Ward on track for offensive comeback

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
After dealing with an offensive slump, Taylor Ward is back to "keeping it simple," and it’s paying off with productive at-bats and a .991 OPS over the last seven games.

ANAHEIM, Calif. — A Taylor Ward comeback could be on the horizon for the Angels, and the timing couldn’t be better.

The team is currently five games back from the No. 3 American League wild card spot, and with players like Mike Trout, Gio Urshela and Brandon Drury recovering from injuries, manager Phil Nevin said he’ll be looking to such players as Ward and Mickey Moniak to keep the lineup competitive as the team inches toward playoff contention. 

“I think everybody needs to play at a high level for us to be successful right now. Everyone knows where we’re at injury wise. I’ve said it many times. I still believe we can win games with what we have, but yes, it’s going to take guys like Taylor and Mickey and Shohei playing at the level that they have been, and then the support cast around them doing things that they’re capable of as well,” said Nevin.

When the 29-year-old outfielder started the season, he was coming off a breakout year. In 2022, he set a new career high with 139 hits, averaging .281 with a .833 OPS. Last year, he recorded 22 doubles, 2 triples, 65 RBIs and 23 home runs, making him one of three Angels to have 20+ home runs last season alongside Trout and Shohei Ohtani.

The key to his success at the plate was a set of changes that he made to his swing mechanics after working with his former college roommate turned personal hitting coach, Trent Woodward. The changes included adjusting the position of his back leg and creating an ellipse rotation with his follow through, all while keeping his approach “simple” and sticking to “the basics.” 

The start of 2023 was shaping up to fall in line with last year’s success, but an offensive slump in April dampened his output at the plate. That slump included a .206 batting average with a .636 OPS. 

Ward said that he thinks one of his struggles this season has been finding the right timing. To help him get back to the slugger he was at the start of the year, he’s been taking every opportunity to get in the box and simplify his mechanics, and the results are starting to take shape. 

Nevin, who trusted Ward in the leadoff spot at the beginning of the season for his aggressiveness at the plate, said he’s starting to see Ward’s improvement and he’s confident that he’s right on the cusp of stepping up in a big way. On Sunday’s game against the Astros, Ward batted in cleanup spot.

“I think the timing is coming back. On Thursday, we had live BP (batting practice) out here. He smoked the ball over the yard. It looked good,” said Nevin. “He’s close and we know what he can do when he breaks out and gets into a good run.”

“Anytime for me personally when I can get free at-bats, I take them. I take advantage of those and I think they just put me in a good spot,” said Ward. 

And he certainly has been in a “good spot” over the past seven games, hitting to the tune of a .346 average with a .991 OPS.

In their first series after the All-Star break against the Houston Astros, Ward hit his tenth home run of the season, and he contributed to Saturday night’s 13-12 victory in extra innings, going 3-for-5 and scoring two runs. 

“I think I’m slowly finding my swing and my approach and just being on time. It’s just keeping things simple. That’s the biggest thing for me,” said Ward.

Ward’s bat will continue to play a crucial role as the Angels inch toward the wild card standings, but for now, the Fresno State alumnus said he’s focused on taking things day by day and he’s confident in the team’s ability to fight through adversity. 

“There’s no no giving up on our team. We just continue to fight,” Ward said.