The hits were bountiful for Triple-A Salt Lake on Friday night, especially for Taylor Ward, who enjoyed a career night in the city where he attended college.The Bees' leadoff man went 5-for-6 with a grand slam as Salt Lake routed Fresno, 13-1, at Chukchansi Park. Ward scored three times in
The hits were bountiful for Triple-A Salt Lake on Friday night, especially for Taylor Ward, who enjoyed a career night in the city where he attended college.
The Bees' leadoff man went 5-for-6 with a grand slam as Salt Lake routed Fresno, 13-1, at Chukchansi Park. Ward scored three times in his first career five-hit game.
The effort even surprised Ward, who didn't know he'd achieved a personal milestone until after the game was over.
"Wait, really?" he said of his first five-hit game, pausing before laughing. "I didn't know that. That's pretty sweet."
Ward led off the game against veteran right-hander Joe Ross with a routine groundout to first base, but it was the only time the Grizzlies were able to retire the Fresno State product.
The 25-year-old won his second matchup with Ross, jumping on the first pitch and lining it to left field for a two-out single in the third inning. Ward tacked on two more singles to left -- one in the fourth off Scott Copeland and another in the sixth off Henderson Alvarez III, another big league veteran. But it was his at-bat in the seventh that did serious damage.
Fresno reliever George Kontos came on to start the seventh and allowed a leadoff single to Wilfredo Tovar. He struck out Ty Kelly, then walked Angels No. 27 prospect Brennon Lund and Roberto Peña on eight consecutive pitches to load the bases. Ward exercised caution at the plate, forcing Kontos to throw a strike before swinging. He worked the count to 2-0, then let a slider pass for a strike before barreling Kontos' next offering over the left field fence for his first career slam.
Gameday box score
"I was waiting for him to throw a strike," Ward said. "I wanted to make him put one in the zone. He did, and I took advantage of it."
Although Ward primarily plays third base in the Angels system, he was drafted as a catcher and spent his first three years in the Minor Leagues behind the plate. He often taps his experience calling pitches to help his thought process at the plate. On Friday, it paid off.
"He'd thrown two fastballs before that, which he threw for balls and then threw a slider for a strike," Ward said. "In my head, I was hoping he'd throw that again. Back in the day when I caught, in moments like that as a catcher I would have [my pitcher] throw that same pitch again because he was landing it. I thought of that as a hitter in that situation."
The big fly was the Bees' Minor League-leading eighth slam of the season, putting them two away from matching the 2013 franchise record.
Even with a grand slam that doubled as his 10th homer of the year, Ward wasn't done. He lined one more single to left with one out in the ninth off shortstop Matt Reynolds, Fresno's fifth pitcher.
Prior to the five-hit effort, the 2015 first-round pick had five four-hit games in his Minor League career, the most recent coming last July 4.
Ward has bounced between the Majors and Minors over the last two seasons. He earned a promotion to the Pacific Coast League in June 2018 after hitting .345/.453/.520 for Double-A Mobile and was called up to the big leagues in mid-August after putting up a .352 average in 60 games with Salt Lake. In 40 games with the Angels, he hit .178.
The 25-year-old was brought back to Los Angeles on April 8 but was 1-for-7 with five strikeouts in four games and rejoined the Bees on May 6. Since then, he's compiled a .273/.410/.561 slash line with 13 doubles and 24 RBIs. While the anticipation of returning to the big leagues weighs on him at times, Ward is still focused on staying locked in at the plate so he's ready when the next opportunity arises.
"It's something that you hope happens soon and quickly, and when it does happen you want to hopefully be in the scenario that I'm in right now, where I'm feeling good at the plate," he said. "If called up, I could help there, make an impact and hopefully do some damage."
Lund, Jose Rojas and Justin Bour drove in two runs apiece for the Bees, while Greg Mahle (1-2) tossed five innings of scoreless relief for the win. The southpaw gave up two hits, struck out five and didn't walk a batter.
Yadiel Hernandez plated Fresno's lone run with a groundout in the third and Wilmer Difo chipped in two hits. Copeland (3-3) retired two batters and was tagged for eighth runs -- seven earned -- on seven hits and two walks.
Katie Woo is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @katiejwoo.