ANAHEIM ― The primary task of a leadoff hitter is to get on base. Ten years ago, the Angels found someone who was well-suited to the task.
Ironically, Mike Trout has not batted leadoff on a regular basis since his historic 2012 season, when he won the American League Rookie of the Year award. All he’s done since is lead the major leagues in on-base percentage – a .419 clip entering Friday.
Taylor Ward is still early in his tenure, but he is on a fast track to becoming the leadoff hitter the team has been searching for since Trout became a staple in the middle of the lineup. Ward, the reigning American League Player of the Week, drew three walks in four plate appearances in the Angels’ 3-0 victory over the Washington Nationals on Friday night.
Ward began the night by drawing a full count against Washington right-hander Joan Adon (1-5), then laid off a fastball just above his belt for ball four. Ward took second base on a single by Mike Trout, advanced to third base on a wild pitch, then scored on a routine groundout by Shohei Ohtani.
That run proved to be the game-winner before an announced crowd of 41,923 at Angel Stadium. Rookie left-hander Jhonathan Diaz (1-0), making his 2022 debut in place of recently demoted starter Jose Suarez, threw five shutout innings and the bullpen held down the fort.
Oliver Ortega, Ryan Tepera, Aaron Loup and Raisel Iglesias allowed only one baserunner over the final four innings.
The combined four-hit shutout lifted the Angels (18-10) eight games above .500 for the first time since June 10, 2018.
Along with their win Thursday in Boston, the Angels have now thrown back-to-back shutouts for the first time since July 15-16, 2016.
Diaz allowed a double to Cesar Hernandez on the first pitch he threw, but he quickly proved adept at working in and out of trouble. He allowed three hits and walked four batters in five innings, and used an assortment of changeups, sinkers, sliders, curveballs and the occasional 92-mph fastball to strike out four batters.
Ward’s third walk of the game, in his third plate appearance, had a similar impact. With Tyler Wade on third base and David Fletcher on first, he laid off an outside fastball from Adon on a 3-and-2 count to load the bases for Trout.
Trout promptly hit a double off the center-field wall, scoring Wade and Fletcher to provide the final score.
Ward’s .488 on-base percentage currently leads the major leagues. Only one Angel has batted more than 25 times out of the leadoff slot and reached base at a .350 clip or better since 2013: Ohtani, who is now entrenched as the No. 3 hitter behind Trout.
More to come on this story.