Ward thriving in return from scary injury

April 19th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Rhett Bollinger's Angels Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ST. PETERSBURG -- The 2023 season ended in cruel, painful fashion for , and it was fair to wonder how he'd recover from it and fare this year.

Ward saw his season come to a premature close on July 29 in Toronto, when he was hit in the face by a fastball from Alek Manoah that caused multiple facial fractures. Ward underwent several procedures, including having three metal plates inserted in his face and a reconstruction of his nose.

But he was able to recover in time to have a mostly normal offseason, and he used Spring Training as a time to get reacclimated to seeing Major League pitching without having the fears that can creep in after such a traumatic injury. Incredibly, Ward has shown no ill effects and has been one of the best hitters in the Majors in the early going, leading the AL with 21 RBIs in 19 games.

“Going through Spring Training, having those at-bats, I was able to learn from them and remind myself to turn the page after every pitch,” Ward said. “No matter what, just flip that page.”

There were a few times in Spring Training and early in the season when Ward flinched on an inside breaking ball, but he’s otherwise looked much like he did in 2022, when he got off to a blistering start en route to a breakout season. Ward said he believes he can be even better, though, despite hitting .296/.310/.543 with six homers and two doubles so far.

“I feel like, then, everything I hit was going into a gap or falling,” Ward said. “I’m trying to find that 10-hit series, I guess, where luck is on my side. To be honest with you, I think there’s more there. I think once that luck is there, I’ll be happier.”

Ward’s hot start has impressed manager Ron Washington, who said he didn’t realize Ward had this kind of star potential, crediting his drive and attitude for his ability to bounce back from last season’s rough situation.

“I think a lot of it has to do with Taylor,” Washington said. “We can describe how it would affect people, but the only person who can really tell you is Taylor. And since Spring Training, he hasn’t shown that it has affected him. I’d seen him from afar, but being around him, he’s got tremendous work ethic. He's very conscientious about what he's doing and how he does it. I didn't know he was this type of ballplayer.”

General manager Perry Minasian has also liked what he’s seen from Ward, who has formed a potent 1-2 punch with superstar Mike Trout -- himself off to a strong start offensively, tied for the Major League lead with eight homers. Minasian knows how important a healthy and productive Ward can be for the lineup and is hoping he can keep it going.

“He's been really good,” Minasian said. “He's a great guy. He's worked his butt off. He's answered all the questions we had in Spring Training. Obviously, he’s had a really good April. We've seen him traditionally have good Aprils. So hopefully he can carry it over and continue it in May and June and put together a complete season and be fun to watch.”

Ward, who also rates as an above-average defender in left field, takes a measured approach both in his pregame work and at the plate. He said he doesn’t change his mentality with runners on base and only tweaks his approach based on the pitcher and his tendencies. So for now, Ward is pleased with how things are going, especially because he knows it can all go away in a blink of an eye like it did last year.

“I know to never take things for granted,” Ward said. “Because I know the other side of it.”