ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Albert Pujols, stumbling through the longest home run drought of his 12-year career, was not in the Los Angeles Angels’ starting lineup Saturday for the first time this season.
And the three-time NL MVP he wasn’t happy about it. When a group of reporters approached his locker, Pujols said: “Go ask the manager, not me, guys. I don’t make the lineup.”
Mark Trumbo, who moved from first base to playing third and in the outfield after the Angels signed Pujols, started at his original position Saturday night against the Toronto Blue Jays. It gave Pujols, the Angels’ No. 3 hitter, a chance to contemplate his .194 batting average and the five RBIs he’s had through his first 27 games in the AL.
“It’s good that he has a day off. He knows it. But I know he doesn’t want to be out of the lineup,” said Angels right fielder Torii Hunter, who didn’t hit a home run in his first 18 games and then homered in four of his next five.
“Albert shouldn’t be happy about it. He’s a competitor, man. He’s just like me. I don’t want to be out of the lineup. I wouldn’t be happy about it, but I know it would probably be beneficial. Sometimes you just need a mental break. You need to take a breather, take a step back and just observe and not pick up a bat. This gives him a chance to clear his lead, relax, crack a joke or two on the bench, smile, laugh … It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Manager Mike Scioscia informed the 32-year-old slugger on Friday night that he was going to rest him. Pujols, in the first year of a 10-year, $240 million contract, has gone a career-worst 33 games and 137 at-bats without a home run since late last season.
“I think everybody needs a day, no matter who you are or what the situation is,” Angels outfielder Vernon Wells said. “You need days off, not only physically but just mentally.”
Pujols is in a 2-for-27 rut and had just one RBI over his last 18 games. Last year, he missed what would have been his 11th straight 100-RBI season by just one.
“Sometimes you’re grinding, and nobody grinds harder than Albert,” Scioscia said. “I think he’s frustrated just from the fact that he knows there’s a lot he feels that he can contribute. Sometimes when you’re trying to find something and you’re pounding your head against the wall, you need to just get off that treadmill for a second and get back on the next day.”
Pujols spoke at length about his slump Friday night after going 0 for 4 in the Angels’ second straight shutout loss to the Blue Jays.
“I can’t get myself down, because that’s not who I am,” he said. “I’m a leader in this clubhouse, just like I was in St. Louis. And when you’re struggling around this time of the year, this is when the ballclub really needs their leader to step up. Just because I’m struggling the way I am, it’s nobody’s fault. I just need to stick with the same attitude.
“I’ve been making some adjustments, and before you know it, I’ll be swinging the bat the way I know how to swing the bat,” said Pujols, who last October joined Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only players to hit three home runs in a World Series game.
Pujols’ longest home run drought prior to this was in 2011, when he came up empty in 27 straight games and 105 at-bats. Previously, his longest drought at the start of a season was in 2008, when he failed to homer in his first eight games and 27 at-bats. He ended that season with 37.
The 32-year-old first baseman averaged 40.5 home runs during his 11 seasons with the Cardinals — including a career-best 49 in 2006 — and is the only player in major league history to hit 30 or more homers in each of his first 11 years in the bigs.
“He’s going to be fine,” said Toronto right fielder Jose Bautista, a two-time AL home run champ who outhomered Pujols 97-79 over the previous two seasons. “He’s one of the best hitters of this generation, so I’m not too worried about him. He’s going to pick it up at some point, and at the end of the year, his numbers are going to be just fine.”