Notes: J-Up setting the table; Trout update
ANAHEIM -- Despite being mired in a slump that saw him bat .120 over his previous 17 games dating back to May 1, Justin Upton was moved to the leadoff spot for the first time in his career on May 23, and surprisingly, the decision has paid off.
Upton, who had played in 1,777 career games before hitting leadoff, has hit .303/.385/.606 with three homers and six RBIs in nine games in his new role to spark the Angels' offense. Manager Joe Maddon said he made the move because it worked in the past with slumping sluggers like Evan Longoria during his time with the Rays and Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo with the Cubs.
"I've had power guys in the past struggle, and most of the time, they get moved down in the batting order, but with a guy of his pedigree, I wanted to move him up and give him a different mindset to work with,” Maddon said. “He's looking more to the middle of the field and trying to get on base. He's trying to hit singles, but he knows his power is there and he's shown that, too. Just a different seat on the deck and a different way to look at things."
Upton said he’d never batted leadoff at any point outside of a "B" game in Spring Training. But he believes it’s helped his mentality at the plate, as he’s seeing more pitches and drawing walks, while also being more selective on ones he can drive. He’s already had two games with leadoff homers and entered Saturday slashing .213/.299/.451 with 12 homers and 24 RBIs in 48 games.
"Later in the game, I let the scoreboard and the game dictate how the at-bat goes, but to lead off the game with Shohei [Ohtani] and Anthony [Rendon] behind me, I try to set the table," Upton said. "I'm waiting on more pitches, better pitches to hit. Getting on via a walk or getting a pitch down the middle I can get on base on. I'm definitely trying to set the table early for those guys."
Maddon wouldn’t rule out Upton remaining in the role for the foreseeable future, possibly even the rest of the season. Regular leadoff hitter David Fletcher has been faring well as the club’s No. 9 hitter and Maddon likes the way the lineup rolls over.
"I have not ruled it out," Maddon said. "Listen, I'm excited when he walks up to start the game for us. There are certain guys that can make an impact real fast. He's thinking really good and he's very clear. I know he likes the idea of leading this team. And even though he's leading the game, if we do it right, we have Fletcher up there and it's like a circle in the lineup and it comes back to him. He has a chance to come up with a lot of guys on base."
No official timetable for Trout
Mike Trout is expected to return at some point in July from a right calf strain he suffered on May 17. Maddon, though, couldn’t say if Trout would return before the All-Star break that begins on July 12. Trout is out of his walking boot and watched the Angels take batting practice before Saturday’s game, but it’s still to early to determine exactly when he’ll return.
"I think the old conventional wisdom would indicate probably not [before the All-Star break], but I'm not into conventional wisdom so I don't know the answer to that question," Maddon said. "It would be wonderful, but if it doesn't happen, we'll adjust to it."
Iglesias activated, Rojas optioned
Shortstop José Iglesias (left hamstring strain) was reinstated from the injured list on the first day he was eligible on Saturday; the Angels optioned utilityman Jose Rojas to Triple-A Salt Lake to make room for him on the roster. Iglesias was in the lineup on Saturday, but Maddon said they will monitor him in the short-term to make sure he doesn’t suffer any setbacks.
Rojas homered on Friday and batted .190/.246/.364 with three homers, 12 doubles and eight RBIs in 43 games. Maddon wants Rojas to try to find his swing in the Minors.
“We feel it’s good for him,” Maddon said. "We want him to hit at that level he did in Spring Training and what he's done in the past. I believe it's going to be real beneficial for him. We just want him to get regular at-bats and get that strike zone back in order. Once he does that, I think he'll take off."