ANAHEIM — Two-way star Shohei Ohtani was moved down in the lineup out of the leadoff spot for the first time this season on Monday but Angels manager Joe Maddon stressed before the game it was more about the emergence of Taylor Ward than an effort to get Ohtani going at the plate.
Ward has been off to a scorching start to the season offensively, while Ohtani has scuffled a bit by his lofty standards. Maddon’s move worked to perfection right out of the gate, as Ward homered twice off Guardians ace Shane Bieber in a 3-0 win at Angel Stadium. It was the first career multi-homer game for Ward, who is batting .367/.525/.700 with three homers and five RBIs in nine games after missing the club’s first eight games with a strained left groin.
“I just wanted him to get on base, I didn’t say anything about cleaning them up,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said with a laugh. “He had a pretty good day. Obviously, he’s a good hitter. And Bieber is good. He knows what he’s doing and has a variety of pitches. It was a tough first at-bat but he fought back and that was the ballgame for us. He was outstanding.”
Ward provided all the offense for the Angels, as he connected on a solo shot on a 3-2 fastball from Bieber in the fifth and a two-run blast on a 3-2 cutter from Bieber in the seventh. He joked that nobody told him his job was to get on base as leadoff hitter and not hit homers.
“They didn’t clarify that,” Ward said. “Maybe tomorrow.”
Ward became just the third player to homer twice against Bieber in a game, joining Yoán Moncada on May 13, 2019, and Josh Donaldson on April 21, 2019. But he was the only one to hit both homers off Bieber with two strikes.
“Everything is good, I just really want to stay right there,” Ward said. “I found two barrels and got lucky with it. Really anything close, I was going to swing and try to protect myself. He just threw them over the heart of the plate and I took advantage.”
Ward also made a nice running catch in right field in the third inning to rob Myles Straw of a hit to help right-hander Michael Lorenzen, who threw six scoreless innings to get the win. Lorenzen said he’s been impressed by Ward so far this season.
“It’s incredible,” Lorenzen said. “His at-bats are some of the best I’ve ever seen, to be honest. Even in Spring Training, his takes are just incredible. If I were to start hitting again, I’d probably try to hit like him because he’s got it going and it’s impressive.”
Ohtani, the reigning American League MVP, went 0-for-4 and is batting .211/.273/.380 with three homers, three doubles, nine RBIs and three stolen bases through his first 17 games. It was his first game hitting second this year but he mostly hit there last year and had plenty of success with it.
Ohtani has experience as both a leadoff hitter and a No. 2 hitter and fared well in both spots last year. Ohtani hit .252/.363/.613 with 39 homers and 87 RBIs in 117 games as the club’s No. 2 batter last season, while batting .272/.388/.543 with six homers and 10 RBIs in 23 games leading off. For his career, he has an .812 OPS in 42 games as the leadoff hitter, a .926 OPS in 129 games as the No. 2 hitter and an .843 OPS in 109 games as the No. 3 batteries.
But with Ohtani struggling to find consistency at the plate, Maddon said they could look to get him a day off soon. He’s played in every game so far as the designated hitter and is scheduled to make his fourth start on the mound on Wednesday against the Guardians. It’s rare for Ohtani to miss a game, as he hit in 155 of the club’s 162 games last year and made 23 starts on the mound.
“We’re talking about different things,” Maddon said. “I’m going to talk to him because he’s pitching the next day. There are a couple of guys who need a day off so I’ll explore that and find out.”