Rangers 6, Angels 4 (9 innings) — Cactus League 3/23/21
Taylor Ward
Taylor Ward had a big day at the plate Tuesday as he fights for an Opening Day roster spot. (Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images).

by Stu Matthews, Angels Nation managing editor

Taylor Ward has an idea of what kind of major-league player he can be. “I think I do have power,” he said last month. “Not light-tower power but enough power — especially doubles and triples.

“I think with more reps, more at-bats and more opportunities, it’ll show and come out.”

In other words, the versatile Ward thinks that he if has a chance with the Angels, he can be a high OPS hitter. He’s shown his versatility — he’s logged games in the corner outfield, third base and even catcher this spring.

On Tuesday at Surprise Stadium, Ward — who was the Angels’ first-round draft choice as a catcher out of Fresno State in 2015 — showed his ability to crush homers and triples.

He looked every bit the major leaguer when he crunched this pitch from Texas’ Jordan Lyles for an opposite-field tater.

Ward wants to show all he can as quick as he can — because at age 27 and with parts of three MLB seasons under his belt, it’s time for him to show he can stick somewhere. With the Angels, he’s blocked by starters Justin Upton, Mike Trout and Dexter Fowler in the outfield, but he’s battling for the fourth outfielder/utilityman spot.

In the top of the sixth, Ward smoked a ball off Kolby Allard over the outfielders and was off to the races, diving with a headfirst slide into third base for a two-run triple.

He raised his spring average to .364 with two homers and an OPS of 1.237.

It was a good showing for a spring game in which the Angels fell 6-4 to the division rival Rangers.

Said Angels manager Joe Maddon: “Taylor’s made a lot of adjustments. He’s trying to get rid of that swing where he lays back, and tries to lift everything. He’s learned now how to put the ball in the air the right way. Everything about his game’s gotten better.”

Taylor Ward is making it tough for the Angels to leave him off the 26-man Opening Day roster — but he’s not the only one.

The ‘Brief Breakdown’:

Pitching: Left-hander Andrew Heaney, the warhorse of the Angels staff, continued to work on the command of his breaking ball. His fastball was on point, however. He gave up five earned runs over 4.2 innings, but struck out six.

“I had good feel on my breaking ball early on, then it stopped, so throughout I was working on a couple of things with the breaking ball,” Heaney said. “I think it’s something that will work itself out with more reps … It took me four innings and 80 pitches to start getting more confident with it.” …

Ty Buttrey, Alex Claudio and Dillon Peters finished up for the Halos, with only Claudio surrendering a run.

Batters: Shohei Ohtani was in the leadoff spot for the second time this spring as Maddon wants to give his two-way star as many at-bats as possible. The Japanese struck out to lead off the game but lashed a crisp single to center and stole second base in the third. He was 1-for-3 and lowered his team-leading spring batting average to .600. …

Sixth-infielder hopeful Jose Rojas had a base hit in his fourth game at second base in five days. Phil Gosselin made the most of his appearance as a sub at first base with a pair of singles.

Talking points: MLB announced that the Angels will be one of four teams who will be keeping their alternate training site at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Initially the Angels’ site was planned for their minor-league facility at San Manuel Stadium in San Bernardino.

It’s advantageous. The Dodgers, Padres and Diamondbacks are also keeping their sites in the Grand Canyon State — meaning the four teams can arrange exhibition games between each other rather than playing intrasquad games until the minor leagues open up in May …

— Jaime Barria remains in limbo because the Angels haven’t learned yet if the pitcher will get a fourth option year for 2021. However Washington Nationals pitcher Erick Fedde — in a similar postion because of questions over how 2020 appearances affect service time — was informed he wouldn’t have the fourth option after a decision by an arbiter. Stay tuned …

— Aaron Slegers, the 6-foot-10 reliever who has been sidelined by back spasms, may still have a chance to make the Opening Day roster. Maddon said that Slegers felt fine after throwing on Monday and the big pitcher will likely appear in a game soon.

— Jose Quijada, the Angels’ flamethrowing left-handed reliever, has been delayed by visa issues coming from Venezuela and finally got to Tempe on Tuesday, where he was immediately placed on the restricted list. He’ll need to be moved to the 40-man roster within 30 days, however.

— Per Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register, Ohtani was involved in a special call with a fellow admirer. Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, who is a mission specialist on the International Space Station, is a big fan of Ohtani’s baseball feats and tries to watch the Angel star from space.

A video call was arranged so that Noguchi and Ohtani could talk Monday. Maddon and Angels catcher Max Stassi also participated in the interstellar call with the Japanese spaceman. Maddon was amazed by Noguchi’s endurance: “He (Noguchi) was very upbeat. I can’t even imagine being in that confined space for six months.”

Daron Sutton made his debut as the play-by-play announcer alongside analyst Mark Gubicza on the Fox Sports West broadcast Tuesday.

On Wednesday: The Angels are home at Tempe Diablo Stadium hosting the Kansas City Royals, who will send left-hander Daniel Lynch (1-2, 8.38 ERA). Left-hander Jose Quintana, who has yet to give up a run in 9.2 innings with 11 strikeouts this spring, will pitch for the Halos.

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