ANAHEIM >> Now that Justin Upton has discovered himself again, the next challenge will be to make sure this is the guy who shows up in 2021.
Upton started this sprint of a season with a horrendous month, and he’s followed it with a good month.
He hit .094 with a .357 OPS in his first 71 plate appearances, and since then has hit .318 with a 1.021 OPS in the next 75 plate appearances.
Unfortunately for him and the Angels, it came too late to earn any additional opportunities beyond this week, so it’ll be something that Upton takes into the winter and the preparation for 2021.
Can you essentially “bottle up” a good swing over the winter and open it again in April?
“It’s tough,” Upton said. “Obviously, it’s tough, but knowing what feelings and what changes or things you’re trying to maintain, I think that’s the key. Having an idea of what you want to do. Once you start swinging again, I think if you have an idea of what you’re trying to do and you have a goal, you can get close.”
Upton, 33, has two years left on his deal with the Angels, which will pay him another $51 million. Obviously, the Angels and Upton are both hoping for more success over the next two years than he’s had over the previous two.
Last year, Upton came into spring training with a knee injury, then he hurt his toe just before opening day. He was shut down again in September because of the knee injury. In between, he hit .215 with a .624 OPS.
This season Upton showed up for spring training in February after what he said was a clean offseason. Manager Joe Maddon said he looked like “a prizefighter.” The pandemic then shut everything down for months, and when Upton returned in July, he wasn’t right.
“I hate to sound like an old guy but doing this for so long, you get comfortable with going through spring training, going through Opening Day and those types of things,” Upton said. “I’ll just admit I adapted poorly to the second spring training. You know I’m not gonna blame it on that. It’s definitely on me.”
Upton said his timing was off during the miserable start, and he had to shorten his swing to get it corrected. In the past month, he’s been a different player.
He’s been, as far as he’s concerned, himself.
“I still feel like I have a lot of good baseball to play,” Upton said. “It feels different body-wise but I still felt good I still feel like I can play at a good level. I’m excited for hopefully a normal spring training next year and prepare myself to play, hopefully, at this level for years to come.”
Andrew Heaney will continue to host the Pup Cup, but this year’s event will be held virtually from Oct. 1-5. The event, which has been held for three years, is a 5K run with proceeds benefitting the therapy dog programs for children’s hospitals around the country. For more information, visit pupcup5k-9.com.