04/12/12 9:18 PM ET
Early struggles not a concern for Pujols
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
"Listen, it's not being cocky, but I know I can hit," Pujols said prior to going 1-for-5 in Thursday's loss to the Twins. "I showed that in the spring, I've shown that for 11 years, and I don't think that's going to go away [instantly]."
Pujols got off to a slow start last year, posting a .755 OPS in the first two months before improving to a .997 clip from June-September. Last year, the slow start was chalked up to the distractions of failed extension talks with the Cardinals.
This year, after a spring in which he batted .383 with a team-leading seven homers and 20 RBIs, Pujols seemed destined for a strong start.
It just hasn't gone his way yet. In Pujols' 23 at-bats through the first six games, two have resulted in extra-base hits, three have been strikeouts, four have been infield popups and eight have been groundouts to the left side (four of which came Monday).
Angels manager Mike Scioscia believes a lot of it has to do with getting acclimated with new surroundings -- ballpark dimensions, hitting backgrounds and pitchers -- after coming over from the National League.
"But he will find it," Scioscia added, "that's for sure."
"It's a slow start for the team," Pujols, whose Angels entered Thursday with a 2-3 record. "This is not about me. I think we should be 4-1 or something like that. You look at our lineup, nobody's hitting good. We haven't clicked. And Spring Training, it was the same way, too. I think we started a little bit slow and then we picked it up.
"It's a long season. You get the tendency as a player, the first week of the season, to try to do too much and try to have a good start, because if you get a good start, everything goes well. But believe it or not, it's not how you start, it's how you finish. That's how I look at it."
X-rays negative on Downs' injured ankle
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Angels' bullpen blew a lead for the second straight day on Thursday -- and may have lost its best reliever in the process.
Lefty Scott Downs got his right ankle stepped on by Twins center fielder Denard Span while covering first base in the eventual 10-9 loss, and now may be headed for the disabled list.
A postgame X-ray revealed no structural damage on the ankle, but Downs was walking on crutches and nursing plenty of soreness. The 36-year-old won't know what his immediate future holds until undergoing an MRI in New York. If he does land on the DL, Trevor Bell -- a right-hander who's on the 40-man roster -- could be called up to take his place.
"It's just one of those freak things that happens; one of those bang-bang plays," Downs said. "We'll see where we go for tomorrow."
Downs entered with runners on second and third, one out and the Angels leading, 6-4, and gave up a sacrifice fly to Luke Hughes to make it a one-run game.
The next batter, Span, hit a dribbler to first base. Albert Pujols ranged to his right, barehanded it and flipped to Downs, who got to the bag in time and made the play, but lost control of the ball after Span's foot made contact with his ankle.
Downs rolled over in pain but gingerly walked out of the game on his own power, with athletic trainer Rick Smith by his side. Rich Thompson then finished the inning, but surrendered four runs -- and the lead -- in the eighth.
"It's pretty sore," Downs said. "This shoe will be coming off pretty fast, I can tell you that. We'll just have to play it by ear tomorrow and go from there."
Pujols all business about trip to the Bronx
MINNEAPOLIS -- Following the series finale against the Twins on Thursday, Albert Pujols' new venture with a new team in a new league will take him to the plush, still relatively new Yankee Stadium.
Minus three regular-season games at the old Yankee Stadium during Interleague Play with the Cardinals in 2003, and a trip to the All-Star Game in that ballpark's final season in '08, Pujols and the Bronx have never had much interaction.
On Friday, when the Angels arrive for the start of a three-game series beginning with the Yankees' home opener, it'll be quite the scene as Pujols steps into the batter's box for the first time at the three-year-old park.
For everyone except Pujols, that is.
"No disrespect when I tell you that, but to me, I look at it like another different stadium," said Pujols, who heads into the Yankees series batting .217 with no homers in the first six games. "There's a lot of history in there, there was a lot of history in the old stadium, so I don't want to disrespect the memories and the history of the players that played through that city. But I don't get caught up in that. I try to separate the off-the-field stuff with my preparation."
Few realize that Pujols' introduction to the United States came in New York, probably because the native Dominican spent no more than six weeks there before moving to Independence, Mo. During that time, he didn't speak English, had no idea where he was relative to Yankee Stadium and never got a chance to catch a game as a fan.
His first game, in fact, came at Kauffman Stadium on June 10, 1997 -- when then Angels center fielder Jim Edmonds made that well-chronicled spectacular, diving, over-the-shoulder catch against the Royals.
Pujols was seated right behind home plate.
"For me, being that low, it was tough to see, but man, it's amazing," said Pujols, who later had Edmonds as a teammate and let him know how impressed he was. "When I watch it on TV, that's an unbelievable catch."
Pujols' one regret about his brief time in New York is never visiting Monument Park -- partly because it was raining for two of the nights he was there in '03 and partly because his focus is just that sharp. He hopes to do so this weekend, but back-to-back day games could make it tough.
"That's one thing that I should've done at the old Yankee Stadium," Pujols said. "I should've gone around to the bullpen. But like I said, I don't get caught up in all that. And that's probably why I didn't go."
Williams officially named Angels' fifth starter
MINNEAPOLIS -- Jerome Williams was officially declared the Angels' fifth starter on Thursday, which was basically a formality considering he proved he was healthy and effective through two Minor League rehab outings.
Williams will now take the ball on Sunday at Yankee Stadium, opposite righty Ivan Nova.
Highly touted prospect Garrett Richards, who had a solid spring and has given up just three runs in 13 1/3 Minor League innings, will remain at Triple-A Salt Lake.
Utility man Alexi Amarista, the only position player with options remaining, is expected to be sent down to the Minors to make room for Williams later this week, as the Angels will go with 12 pitchers and 13 position players the rest of the way.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and 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.