It was a breakout rookie year for Jared Walsh in the shortened 2020 season, but it was fair to wonder if he'd be able to replicate it over the course of a full season in '21.
But Walsh has surprisingly been one of the best hitters in the Majors so far, and he kept it up by going 4-for-4 with a double, a homer and a walk in a 5-4 win against the Astros in the series opener on Monday at Minute Maid Park. It was the second four-hit showing of Walsh’s career and his second this month, as he also had four hits on May 1 against the Mariners. The 2015 39th-round Draft pick is now batting .347/.426/.593 this season -- once again proving his doubters wrong.
"Pretty spectacular," Angels manager Joe Maddon said. "He's playing with a lot of confidence. Not surprising. He's very capable of doing those kinds of things."
Walsh, 27, has been an RBI machine dating back to last September, and with two more RBIs on Monday, he has 29 in 32 games this year. He is tied for the second most in the Majors behind J.D. Martinez's MLB-leading 31 RBIs. Walsh also has 55 RBIs over his last 65 games, dating back to the start of last season. And going back to when he became a regular on Sept. 4, 2020, he leads the Majors with 55 RBIs over his last 53 games, just ahead of Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman’s 52 RBIs in 57 games.
“I think he’s one of the best young hitters around, and so did [the Angels],” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “The reason why they let Albert [Pujols] go was so he could play first base every day. I know a lot of people were getting on me last time because I walked Walsh with first base open to pitch to Albert, and that’s why. He hits the ball all over the field. He hits balls to left, the changeup to center, hit a cutter to right field. This young man, he can hit.”
Walsh, who also had the key two-run double in the Angels’ 2-1 win over the Dodgers on Sunday, singled in his first at-bat in the second before ripping an RBI double in the fourth that scored Mike Trout from first base.
Walsh smacked his seventh homer of the year in the sixth on a 1-2 cutter from right-hander Luis Garcia. It was another example of Walsh's power with two strikes, as he's slugging .623 in pitcher's counts (0-1, 0-2, 1-2, 2-2) this year, which leads the Majors, according to Inside Edge. His homer also sparked a four-run rally for the Angels to take a one-run lead.
"The kid, Garcia, tried to cut a ball in on his hands, and he kept it fair for a homer,” Maddon said. “[Garcia] couldn't believe it. And then he comes up next time and he hits a bullet to left field."
As Maddon alluded to, Walsh came to the plate in the seventh needing a triple to hit for the cycle, but he had to settle for a single to left field. It came after a leadoff walk from Trout, but the Angels were unable to score. Walsh later walked in his final at-bat in the ninth, and he admitted he thought about the cycle, even though he knows he doesn’t hit many triples.
“It enters your mind, but I’d have to smoke a ball into right-center to get a triple,” Walsh said. “I’m not the fastest guy in the world, so I’d really have to hit it in the right spot of the park to get that.”
Walsh, though, helped preserve the lead with a nice defensive play in the bottom of the seventh, robbing Astros right fielder Kyle Tucker of a hit on a hard-hit grounder down the line. He also made a nice play on a grounder from Jose Altuve in the eighth that had some unusual spin.
It’s another reason why the Angels prefer Walsh playing first base instead of right field, where he was mostly playing until the club opted to designate Pujols for assignment. The move allows Walsh to be the club’s everyday first baseman.
"You saw what he did at the plate, but what he did on the field was spectacular,” Maddon said. “He had the hard-hit ball by Tucker and had two balls take bad hops on him tonight.”