Joe Maddon had his head turned away from home plate when he heard the crack of the bat in the second inning Saturday night.
“I was talking to [assistant hitting coach] John Mallee, so I wasn’t quite focused, and then it was the loudest sound,” the Angels’ manager said. “That is the sound of a power hitter right there.”
Maddon caught the flight path of the ball after it left the bat of Jo Adell, and the dugout erupted in jubilation as the two-run homer, Adell’s first as a major leaguer, traveled 437 feet to left field, far enough to clear both bullpens.
Four innings later, Adell led off the sixth with a 107-mph laser to right field for his second homer, among the several offensive highlights of a 16-3 thrashing of the Seattle Mariners in Angel Stadium.
A shaky 3½-week start to a highly anticipated big league career, one marked by a high whiff rate, virtually no power and several defensive gaffes, took a sudden U-turn for the rookie right fielder, and that should bode well for the Angels.
Adell entered Saturday with a .175 batting average (11 for 63), a .442 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, two doubles, one RBI, 28 strikeouts and four walks in his first 17 games.
He also looked uncomfortable and unsure of himself on defense, committing a rare four-base error in which a Nick Solak fly ball to the warning track popped out of his glove and over the wall at Texas on Aug. 9 and a two-base error that led to a pair of unearned runs in a 5-4 loss at Oakland on Aug. 23.
But Saturday night, Adell, a first-round pick out of high school in Louisville in 2017, flashed some of the tools that have made him the organization’s most highly touted prospect since Mike Trout was drafted in 2009.
“Yeah, it was definitely a tough start for me, for sure,” Adell said. “I think a lot of the things that I’ve had trouble with at the plate in the past kind of showed themselves early on. For me, it’s exposure, it’s education. My mom used to say that all the time.
“The more you get to see these pitchers and see what they’re trying to do, the more you’re able to make the adjustments and perform at a higher level. I think that’s kind of what had to happen for me to have success.”
Trout had his third career six-RBI game, hitting a two-run double in the sixth inning, a three-run homer — his team-high 12th of the season — in a four-run seventh and a sacrifice fly in the eighth, as the last-place Angels fashioned their first three-game winning streak of the season.
Trout’s homer was the 297th of his career, moving him to within two of Tim Samon for the most in Angels history.
But it was Adell who stole the spotlight, snapping a 1-1 tie in the second when he demolished an 87-mph Justus Sheffield changeup, his two-run homer exiting his bat at 110 mph.
“One-hundred percent,” Adell said, when asked whether he knew the ball was going out. “I put a good swing on it, and like I’ve been saying, I’ve had my struggles and whatnot, but it was really good to have a swing and a day where at the plate I’m feeling like I felt tonight. It was pretty awesome.”
His teammates thought so too. As the ball left Adell’s bat, outfielder Brian Goodwin, sitting on the bench in front of the dugout railing, thrust both arms in the air.
Rookies often get the silent treatment after their first homer, with players ignoring them for a few seconds, but not Adell, who was mobbed by Trout and other Angels as he descended the dugout steps.
“I mean, they like him; he’s really likable,” Maddon said. “They’ve seen him battle through some tough things and battle like they did when they were younger. All those elements are in play, and they were very enthusiastic when he came back in the dugout. I thought it was great.”
At 21 years and 143 days old, Adell became the youngest player to homer for the Angels since Trout hit his 30th and final home run of his 2012 rookie year when he was 21 years and 54 days old.
Adell also became the fourth player in 40 years to homer for the Angels before turning 22, joining Trout, Dick Schofield and Tom Brunansky.
Adell has hit several vicious line drives and ground balls this season, but over the last week, he tried to alter his swing path slightly to get the ball in the air more. He also quieted his stance, removing some of the movement from his pre-swing setup.
“I really focused on the pitchers and what they’re doing and recognizing how they’re going to get me out — that’s been huge,” Adell said. “And yeah, simplifying the swing, that’s another big one.
“I had to cut down on a lot of movement. I think the more movement you have, the harder it is to put off the swing that you want, and to be consistent. So I’m making a point to slow everything down and kind of make it more compact.”
Adell then sparked a four-run rally in the sixth when he led off by lining a homer off the top of the high right-field wall.
“For me, the big ticket is when I go to right field,” Adell said. “When I’m hitting line drives to the right side, it lets me know that my shoulder’s staying in there and I’m doing everything that I need to be doing.”
Adell struck out twice and flied to right field in his other three at-bats, but a two-homer game should be a huge morale boost and proof that all the work he’s been putting in with the hitting coaches is paying off.
“He’s always upbeat, but of course his confidence had to take a hit [when he was struggling], it had to,” Maddon said. “But when he has a bad day, he comes the next day ready to work, and he doesn’t carry it over.
“In order to be really good at this game, you cannot carry failure with you from one day to the next. And from what I’m seeing so far, he doesn’t do that.”