05/01/12 2:39 AM ET
Pujols shrugs off homerless April
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
It's a storyline the baseball world is seemingly obsessed with -- and a subject the Angels' new first baseman is noticeably sick of addressing.
"I don't think about that, man," Pujols said, rolling his eyes at another round of questions about his homerless streak and early season slump. "I let you guys play with it. I know I can hit a home run. When it's going to happen, I don't know. It could be tomorrow, maybe the next day, a month from now, I don't know."
It didn't happen against the team with the worst starting-pitching ERA in the Majors on Monday night. Instead, Pujols finished 1-for-4 in the Angels' 4-3 win over the Twins, hitting his first double since April 19, lining a ball that sailed just wide of the left-field foul pole and putting his batting average at .217 for the year.
The 32-year-old still hasn't driven in a run since April 15 (he has four RBIs on the year), still hasn't had a multi-hit game since that three-double night April 19 (when his batting average sat at .296) and still (after 92 at-bats) hasn't hit a ball over the fence.
Only Braves center fielder Michael Bourn (95) and Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy (94) have more at-bats than Pujols without hitting a home run. But neither of them have averaged 14.3 at-bats per home run throughout their careers.
Pujols has had just one longer homerless streak -- through 105 at-bats last season -- but never to start a season and of course never in his first month on a new team and with a $240 million contract.
"Home runs, when they come, they come in bunches," Pujols said, echoing a sentiment he has expressed countless times through the first four weeks of the season. "I don't try to go out there and hit a ball out of the ballpark every day. I know that's what the fans come to see, but at the same time, they come to see us win. That's my attitude.
"It's just baseball, man. That's definitely not going to beat me up. I have my faith in God and knowing that I'm here for a reason and try to stay positive all the time. I think that's something I'm showing to these guys."
That's something Pujols allegedly communicated to his teammates in a pregame hitters' meeting Monday afternoon -- to stay positive and not worry about his struggles; he'd be just fine. That's what hitting coach Mickey Hatcher told a couple of reporters later.
And that's something Pujols didn't agree with.
"Mickey should never tell you guys what we talk about in a meeting," Pujols said. "I think that's something that's private. That needs to stay with the team. No disrespect to Mickey, but this is our ballclub. This is stuff that needs to be private, and that's something that I'm going to tell him. He should never talk to the media about the things that are going on in the meetings. No disrespect to him, but I think that's the way the ballclub should be. Stuff behind [closed] doors stays behind [closed] doors, not in the media."
Walden focused on improving slider
ANAHEIM -- Jordan Walden was hardly surprised that he was removed from the closer's role, even though he had only pitched in six games and all it took was one blown save. Deep down inside, the hard-throwing right-hander knew he simply wasn't right.
"I knew I wasn't set in stone [as the closer]," Walden said. "And I know how good [Scott] Downs is."
One day after he surrendered a two-run, walk-off homer to the Rays' Brandon Allen on Thursday, Angels manager Mike Scioscia pulled the trigger, replacing Walden with Downs, the standout left-hander who converted a clean save in his debut as closer Saturday.
The move is expected to be temporary, with Walden working in less-stressful situations in hopes of improving his slider -- a crucial pitch to offset his blistering fastball.
While posting a 2.08 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) in 4 1/3 innings, resulting in an 8.31 ERA, Walden has thrown sliders for only 11 of 104 pitches (10.6 percent). Of those 11 sliders, only two have been for strikes, which may tend to make him lose confidence in the pitch and rely too heavily on the fastball.
A perfect example of that came Thursday, when he threw two sliders for balls against B.J. Upton, then hurled five straight fastballs to Allen -- who hit the fifth one out.
"My slider just hasn't been for a strike, so when they see it, they don't swing," Walden said. "I just have to work on throwing it up there for a strike and just give them something else to look at."
More than the slider, though, many will tell you a demotion like this can have a negative effect mentally on a young closer like Walden.
The 24-year-old doesn't see it that way, though.
"I took it well," Walden said. "Downs, his numbers show everything. He pitched lights-out last year, and this year he's our guy. Whatever it takes for our team to win, I'm all about it."
Trout ignoring pressure to pick up Angels
ANAHEIM -- Mike Trout had a predictable routine at Triple-A Salt Lake. He'd play in a game -- and usually do very well in it -- then check on how the Major League team did that night.
And in the 20 games he was down there, the Angels won just six.
"It's crazy," said Trout, who got his highly anticipated callup Friday night, with Bobby Abreu getting released in the process. "It's common for every team to go through slumps. This has to be a learning experience for us, so later in the year, if we go through it again, we have something to look back on."
Trout, who put up a .403/.467/.623 slash line as the Salt Lake Bees' leadoff hitter, says he "learned a lot" from last year, when he batted .220 with five homers in his first 40 Major League games. As MLB.com's No. 3-ranked prospect in baseball, and the recent addition to a team that ranks 24th in the Majors in runs per game (3.45), many are counting on the 20-year-old Trout to be the necessary spark for this struggling offense.
That's the kind of pressure Trout, who still has rookie status, can't put on himself.
"That's the thing -- once you let the pressure get to you, that's when you start trying to do too much," said Trout, who was batting leadoff Monday for the third straight game after going 0-for-7 in his first two. "You just have to go out there and play my game, not try to hit home runs every time or hit a grand slam with no one on. Just get on base and do the little things."
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.