03/05/12 6:48 PM EST
Pujols wastes little time shedding 'nerves'
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
"I did," Pujols said, admitting to having some nerves on Monday in wearing an Angels uniform for the first time after adorning the Cardinals' bright colors for 11 distinguished seasons. "As I was stretching, you have to feel that. It was something I felt with the Cardinals, believe it or not."
First inning of his first game, a 9-1 exhibition decision over the Athletics, Pujols walked up and did exactly what he was hired to do as owner Arte Moreno's pricey centerpiece.
With two on and none out, he took that wide stance, turned on a 1-1 delivery by young A's starter Brad Peacock and rifled it into the left-field corner for a run-scoring double.
"It's kind of funny," said fellow free-agent import C.J. Wilson, also impressive in two scoreless innings of his Angels debut. "He came up in the first inning and knocked in a run. We're all laughing. That's Albert."
With at-bats in each of the first three innings, Pujols followed his double with a line-drive single and fly ball out to right field.
"This is going to be a lot of fun," center fielder Peter Bourjos said. "That guy makes it look pretty easy, doesn't he?"
For openers, Pujols had to like what he saw from his new club -- and, specifically, his table-setters.
Erick Aybar and Howard Kendrick, both growing into full maturity atop manager Mike Scioscia's lineup, each reached safely in all three at-bats in front of King Albert. Aybar singled and walked twice, while Kendrick singled, launched a two-run homer to center and walked.
Aybar and Kendrick "got back in counts, took counts deep, got hits ... did everything," Scioscia said.
Pujols, who doesn't miss a thing, was appreciative.
"Those guys are good," Pujols said. "They do their job, getting on base, and I'm going to do mine -- driving them in."
Chris Iannetta, the new offensive upgrade behind the plate courtesy of Colorado, flexed his muscles with a two-run homer after lining out in his first at-bat. He'll give the bottom third of the order the pop it's been lacking.
With the Angels, it's always about the offense. The pitching, enhanced by the arrival of Wilson as the third starter behind co-aces Jered Weaver and Dan Haren and exemplary setup man LaTroy Hawkins, is first-rate. The defense, anchored by a brilliant outfield, has few equals.
This offense, however, is very much a work in progress, with a number of variables and a few uncertainties. But when you've brought in Michelangelo to paint your ceiling, you have a shot at having a pretty decent looking house.
If things fall into place -- Kendrys Morales' long-awaited return, Vernon Wells' transformation, Mark Trumbo finding enough at-bats to launch missiles, Bobby Abreu finding enough at-bats to contribute -- this attack could be better than good.
With all these weapons, it could be downright lethal.
Aybar, who already has benefited from Pujols' counsel, can be a quality leadoff man if he maintains plate discipline. Bourjos, with his blinding speed and quick bat, will be a rocket-fueled force if he leads off against lefties, a strong possibility. Hitting at the bottom of the order, Bourjos becomes a second leadoff presence the second time around.
Kendrick, licking his chops and feasting on fastballs with Pujols on deck, easily could rise from .285 to .300 and make the leap from 18 home runs to 25.
Wells, having gone back to the basics over the winter in Texas workouts with highly respected hitting instructor Rudy Jaramillo, looks like a new man in the batter's box. The left fielder lashed a two-run single to finish a three-run first inning against Peacock and smoked a vicious line drive at left fielder Jason Pridie next time up.
"It's about staying back, not jumping, getting to pitches and, hopefully, using the whole field," Wells said. "Rudy and I just started over and did a lot of work on my swing. It felt good today. A couple of line drives, that's always a good thing."
Right fielder Torii Hunter, another consistent run producer, will be in the middle third of the lineup, determined to prove he has a lot left in his tank at 36. Third base is up for grabs, with Trumbo hoping he can make the difficult transition across the diamond in competition with Alberto Callaspo and Maicer Izturis.
Pujols said he doesn't concern himself much with who is hitting in front of him or behind him. His job is to create fear -- and produce a ripple effect -- in the No. 3 hole.
His customary target for Spring Training is about 65 at-bats. As with all great hitters, he has his reasons for everything.
"I love to get ready for the season early," he said. "I don't like to wait [until late in the spring] and take bad habits into the season. I don't want to change my approach."
Why would he do anything as crazy as that?
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.