HOUSTON -- The most challenging outfield construction in baseball is now a regular part of the Angels' schedule. The Astros' move to the American League West means the Angels will play nine games at Minute Maid Park, which also means their outfielders -- especially, in this series, Mike Trout -- will have to get used to a ballpark with a mound in center field, a pole in fair play and an assortment of weird angles and hard surfaces.
"It's different," Trout said, "but it's something that we have to get used to now that they're in our division."
Just before the left-center-field gap, the Minute Maid Park wall caves out about 12 feet, leading to a bullpen area with two hard pillars and chain-linked fencing in between. But the most troubling part is what comes next: A 30-foot mound in deep center field, preceded by the warning track, and a pole on the end of it.
In anticipation for that, Angels third-base coach Dino Ebel had his outfielders out early to shag fly balls prior to Tuesday's series opener.
"I told Trout we're going to be playing in our normal spots, playing the hitters where our spray charts show," Ebel said. "You just can't worry about that. You have to track the ball down; it is there, it's live, it's padded, it's not like there's no safety out there."
Trout learned that it's easier to climb the hill while running on his toes.
As for any concern of injury trying to track down a fly ball in deep center field?
"You have to play fearless and try to catch everything, with all the obstacles out there," Trout said. "You have that pole, too. You definitely have to worry about that. You don't want to run full speed into that."
Pujols goes to bat for Scioscia
HOUSTON -- Albert Pujols knows the drill. An expensive team with World Series aspirations struggles and, like clockwork, the manager's seat gets hot. That's especially the case with these Angels, whose 11-21 record has led many outside the organization -- media and fans alike -- to speculate on the job status of 13-year skipper Mike Scioscia, whose contract runs through 2018.
The Angels' high-priced first baseman believes it's unwarranted.
"That's the reality," Pujols said. "Sosh, he's our head, and everybody goes to the head. He's taking a lot of heat that he shouldn't take. Us, the players -- including myself -- we're not doing what we need to do.
"He writes the lineup, he makes decisions in the middle of the game, but at the end, he can't pitch for us, he can't play defense for us, he can't hit for us. We need to take care of ourselves and do the things that we need to do to win."
Pujols recalls similar speculation involving former Cardinals skipper Tony La Russa, who he believes has a very similar style to Scioscia.
"He caught a lot of crap and people were saying a bunch of stuff that they shouldn't say," Pujols said of La Russa. "The reality is we are the players. We can catch some heat, too, but at the same time, you don't think we're trying? We're trying our best, too."
So far, though, that hasn't been anywhere near good enough.
More than five weeks into the season, the injury-riddled Angels continue to struggle across the board. Their defense ranks 27th in fielding percentage, the pitching staff has the third-worst ERA in baseball, Josh Hamilton (.202/.248/.287 slash line heading into Tuesday) and Pujols (batting .145 in his last 15 games) are slumping, and the entire team has a minus-33 run differential, which is better than only four other teams.
Pujols started Wednesday against the Astros at designated hitter after making nine of his last 11 starts at first base, this time because his surgically repaired right knee -- more so than the plantar fasciitis he perpetually deals with on his left foot -- is bothering him. Scioscia said "there's concern there, but right now, Albert feels he can manage it."
At this point, the Angels can ill-afford another player on the disabled list.
"Everybody is doing everything they can to try to prepare and be ready to go, including our manager," Pujols said. "I know it's frustrating because our record and the numbers show it, but you still have 130 games. A lot of things can happen. We're easily capable of winning 100 games still. You can't let 32 games determine our season, because it's a long season."
Madson feels for Jays' Happ
HOUSTON -- Rehabbing Angels reliever Ryan Madson spent a few years in Philadelphia with J.A. Happ. And like everyone else, he was concerned about what took place on Tuesday night, when a line drive from the Rays' Desmond Jennings hit the Blue Jays left-hander on the side of the head, drawing blood and forcing him to exit on a stretcher.
"He's a good guy, good teammate, real easygoing guy," said Madson, who played a full season with Happ in 2009. "I bet all of his teammates are upset about it. Hopefully he gets better soon."
Happ was released from Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Fla., early Wednesday afternoon, was diagnosed with a minor fracture, somehow avoided a concussion and said from Tropicana Field a few hours later that he feels "very fortunate."
But the incident re-introduced the topic of incorporating padding to pitchers' baseball caps. Some padded cap lining has been experimented with, but none of the prototypes have yet to be approved by Major League Baseball.
If approved, Madson believes it wouldn't hurt to give players the option of wearing it. But he -- like the vast majority of Major League pitchers -- doesn't believe comebackers to the head happen often enough to make wearing protective headgear mandatory.
"You take a risk any time you step on a sports field, whether it's a race car or hockey," Angels starter C.J. Wilson added. "You know what the risks are when you're out there. Guys get hurt when they crash into fences, guys trip on the first baseman and blow their knee out. It's professional sports. People are paid well to take those risks."
Oshiro earns Angels' Honorary Bat Girl nod
HOUSTON -- Angels fan and Southern California resident Nancy Oshiro was named winner of the Angels' Honorary Bat Girl Contest, which recognizes baseball fans who have been affected by breast cancer and demonstrate a commitment to eradicating the disease.
The Angels are in Chicago during Mother's Day on Sunday, wrapping up a series against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. So Oshiro will be honored prior to Monday's game against the Royals at Angel Stadium, where she'll take part in pregame activities, be part of an on-field ceremony and receive several prizes -- a customized jersey, a certificate signed by Commissioner Bud Selig, pink MLB merchandise and four tickets to that night's game.
Each of the 30 Major League teams designate an Honorary Bat Girl based on an essay contest, which is voted on by fans at HonoraryBatGirl.com and also by a Guest Judging Panel that includes CC Sabathia (Yankees), Matt Kemp (Dodgers), Andrew McCutchen (Pirates) and Alex Gordon (Royals).
In 2012, Oshiro underwent a mammogram that revealed a tumor the size of a walnut. After several followup tests and biopsies, she was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer.
"This, by far, has been the hardest thing ever, but the game is not over yet," Oshiro, who attended an Angels game the night before her first chemotherapy, said in her Honorary Bat Girl Contest essay. "Soon, I'll have a victory and we can light up the Halo."
The Honorary Bat Girl program was introduced in 2009 to raise additional awareness and support for the annual "Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer" initiative celebrated on Mother's Day. In four years, over 4,000 testimonials have been submitted and more than 10 million fan votes have been cast.
• Madson packed his bags and left for Arizona on Wednesday, where Scioscia said he'll face hitters at least twice before venturing out on an official rehab assignment. The tentative plan is to have Madson pitch in Arizona on Thursday and Saturday, then pitch for Class A Inland Empire as soon as Monday. After two appearances there, he'll be evaluated.
• Tuesday's 7-6 loss dropped the Angels to 4-5 when scoring six-plus runs. They went 93-13 when scoring six-plus runs over the last two seasons combined.
• A feature on Jerome Williams and the relationship with his late mother will run Sunday at 4 p.m. PT on ESPN's Baseball Tonight. Leading up to Mother's Day on Sunday, Williams, who wears a pink glove in honor of the breast cancer that took his mom's life, will be posting old photos with his mother on his Twitter account, @pinkpuka57.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.