TEMPE, Ariz. -- For three straight years now, Mike Trout has arrived at Spring Training with the same two stated goals for the ensuing season: steal more bases, be more aggressive early in counts.
Monday provided strong encouragement for both in a 9-4 loss to the White Sox at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
Trout stole second base while Albert Pujols was batting in the early stages of the game, an event that took place only six times last season. Trout also homered on the very first pitch he saw, something he did only twice in 2015.
Trout saw a first-pitch fastball from White Sox right-hander Erik Johnson and pulverized it well over the left-center-field fence for his first home run of the spring -- and his fourth hit in eight at-bats.
The 24-year-old center fielder has always been timid early in counts, ranking in the bottom 10 in percentage of first-pitch swings each of the last four years. In 2015, Trout swung at the first pitch only 10.3 percent of the time, the fourth-lowest rate among Major League qualifiers. Because of that, he hit with two strikes more often than all but three players.
The fact he nearly won another American League Most Valuable Player Award in spite of that is nothing short of amazing.
As you probably already know, it's a lot easier to hit with zero strikes than it is with two. Major Leaguers averaged a .340/.347/.553 slash line on the first pitch last year and a .177/.244/.272 mark on two-strike counts. That's a major difference. And Trout took first-pitch strikes in 46 percent of his plate appearances in 2015.
Imagine how much better his numbers would be if he wasn't so frequently behind in counts?
"Mike's going to be aggressive when it's there," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's developing a nice feel, and if it happens to be on the first pitch, so be it."
• Angels closer Huston Street pitched in an intrasquad game Saturday and is still recovering from a bout with calf tightness. Street is expected to pitch in some capacity Tuesday, either against the D-backs or in an another intrasquad game.
• Outfielder Todd Cunningham has not played since jamming his left wrist while making a catch against the A's on Thursday. Scioscia said Cunningham will soon start swinging in the batting cage and could return to game action in two or three days.
• Tyler Skaggs, easing his way back from Tommy John surgery, "felt great" during a bullpen session Monday, Scioscia reported. Skaggs may face hitters in live batting practice Wednesday, which could be his final step before pitching in a game.