Pujols sees bright side of early struggles
ST. PETERSBURG -- This may come as a shock, but Albert Pujols believes the worst offensive drought of his storied career may be the best thing that could happen to him as he begins a new life with the Angels.
Baseball's $240 million man was unable once again Tuesday night to hit his first home run of 2012 as the Tampa Bay Rays hammered the struggling Angels, 5-0, at Tropicana Field.
Pujols, who before this year homered every 14 at-bats, has never started a season under a darker cloud. For the first time since 2010, he's gone four games without a hit. His 0-for-4 Tuesday night left him with a .232 average -- 96 points below his lifetime .328 mark. He's driven in just four runs.
Rays left-hander David Price, who says he grew up watching Pujols playing for the St. Louis Cardinals on TV, kept Albert in check en route to an impressive five-hit shutout.
And to make the Pujols drought hurt even more, the Rays themselves blasted four homers off Angels' starter Ervin Santana, who's 0-4 and has allowed 10 homers in his four 2012 starts.
|"I have been in this situation before. It's part of the game. Stuff like that, you cannot let it get into your head. You just have to keep fighting and know it's a long season."|
|-- Albert Pujols|
"Right now this lineup needs a catalyst," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. "I think the obvious catalyst is going to be when Albert gets settled and starts swinging the bat."
Pujols' previous longest homerless streak to start a new season was in 2008, when he had 27 at-bats before hitting one out. He ended the year with 37. This spring's homer famine has lasted 69 at-bats, and he's hitless in his last 16.
Actually, the three-time National League MVP hasn't homered in his last 98 at-bats dating to Sept. 22, when he was still with the Cardinals.
So how in the world can he stand by his locker with a smile on his face after Tuesday night's game and say that this all might be for the better?
This start is certainly not what Angels owner Arte Moreno had in mind when he paid the free-agent Pujols that staggering $240 million for the next 10 years.
"Everybody knows what I can do in this game, what I've done for 11 years," Pujols said. "I think if everything had gone the way I wanted it to, I don't think people on this ballclub would know my character. To me, that's more important.
"Just because I'm going through this struggle, I'm the same person."
Pujols said during his first Spring Training with the Angels after 11 seasons with St. Louis that he had gained enormous respect for his new teammates and hopes they feel the same way about him.
"Getting to know each other is more important," he continued. "Maybe the struggles I'm going through is telling me something and telling them, 'Hey, look at him. He's going through this, but he's the same guy.' Believe me, I'd love to be able to help this ballclub more than what I have, but if I had started great right off the bat, that's what everybody expected."
But he hasn't, and Pujols said it's important for his teammates to see how he reacts now. "I know I'm here for a reason, and it's more than just baseball. And now, I cannot wait for things to go the way we all want them," he said.
There are a myriad of reasons why Pujols is scuffling.
It's always difficult to move from one league to another and face unfamiliar pitchers.
And there's the pressure created by the huge contract and all that is expected from him as the Angels try to unseat the Texas Rangers as division champs.
"I don't think he's pressing," said Scioscia. "He's taking some cuts, and he's on pitches; he's just missing some of them. I know he's feeling a little frustration and wants to get this thing going, but he's close."
Pujols disagrees he's putting extra pressure on himself.
"I'm not trying to go out there and do too much," he said. "I have been in this situation before. It's part of the game. Stuff like that, you cannot let it get into your head. You just have to keep fighting and know it's a long season. I don't concentrate on individual numbers. I concentrate more as a team, and I think we're a better ballclub that what we've been showing. It just seems like everyone in the lineup is struggling."
Scioscia refuses to think this could be the beginning of an off-year for his new superstar.
"There are certainly some guys who sometimes have that off-year where they don't get where they want to be," said the manager. "It doesn't seem, historically, that Albert's that guy. After 600-700 plate appearances, I have to think he's going to have numbers much more in synch and closer to where he's been."
Pujols says players have to go through tough times for a reason.
"No matter what kind of success and what kind of down times you go through, there's a reason," he said. "It builds you -- to be a better person, to be a better player, to be a better teammate. I don't like to look for excuses, but it makes you appreciate the good times."
If that's true and the first 17 games are a test, good times are ahead for baseball's $240 million man.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.