In '19 debut, Upton homers on first pitch he sees

June 18th, 2019

TORONTO -- Angels left fielder wasted no time in his 2019 debut on Monday, as he homered on the first pitch he saw and added a single in the same inning in a 10-5 win over the Blue Jays.

Upton, returning to the lineup after missing nearly three months with left turf toe, suffered on March 24, homered and singled off veteran Edwin Jackson in the second inning. He went 2-for-4 with a walk on the night and became the first player with at least five total bases in his first inning at the plate in a season since Jose Valentin did it in 1996.

"I had a little bit of adrenaline and saw something I liked," Upton said. "I got a couple pitches to hit."

Upton hit .333/.440/.667 with two homers and six RBIs in six rehab games with Class A Advanced Inland Empire before being reinstated from the 60-day injured list on Monday. Fellow outfielder was designated for assignment to make room for Upton on the roster. Puello batted .390 with three homers, three doubles and 12 RBIs in 12 games, but was DFA’d because he’s out of Minor League options.

“Everything feels pretty normal,” Upton said. “Early on I was kind of guarding a little bit running in the outfield. I have gotten over that. I feel like I’m moving well and everything is back to normal.”

Upton, 31, should provide a big boost offensively for the Angels, as the four-time All-Star hit .257/.344/.463 with 30 homers and 85 RBIs in 145 games with the Angels last year. It marked his third straight season of hitting at least 30 homers and driving in at least 85 runs.

“The best thing you can do for your team is put the squad you expected to be out there, out there,” Upton said. “Now it’s up to us to play at the level we think we can play at.”

Upton said the toughest part was feeling like he wasn’t part of the team and having to watch the team play on television instead of being with his teammates. But he said he believes he’s passed every hurdle so far, including the mental one.

“It’s more mental than anything,” Upton said. “At first in the boot you feel, ‘OK I’m in a boot. I can’t do anything.’ Then after I got out of the boot, I feel like I was moving around good enough but still letting the injury heal. The last six weeks have been the toughest.”

Upton, though, said he was impressed by how Brian Goodwin and Puello performed his absence. Goodwin, who is now the club's fourth outfielder, is hitting .289/.348/.446 with six homers and 24 RBIs in 64 games this year.

“I think they’ve done great,” Upton said. “It’s been fun to watch. Brian is having a great year. Puello came up and gave the guys a shot in the arm. Those guys have been great. Hats off to them. They’ve been awesome.”

The Angels are hopeful that Puello clears waivers, as the 28-year-old exceeded expectations after having his contract selected from Triple-A Salt Lake on May 28. But they opted to keep Goodwin over Puello because Goodwin is a left-handed hitter and is regarded as a better defender.

“Not an easy decision to come to,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus. “And it wasn’t easy to tell him. Although he, like Cody Allen, was extremely professional about it. He knew Justin Upton was coming back and a move had to be made. Obviously, we would prefer to keep him but we can’t keep everybody.”

Goodwin should still get some playing time in left, as the Angels will be cautious with Upton in the early going. They also have four games on artificial turf at Rogers Centre, but Ausmus said they’re not worried about that playing a factor with Upton’s toe.

“He won’t play all the games here,” Ausmus said. “Still kind of ease him in. But not concerned specifically with the turf.”