05/19/12 2:39 AM ET
Homers could be sign Pujols turning corner
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
It's the way he's hit those two homers.
On Wednesday, Pujols kept his hands in on an 0-1, middle-inside fastball from Chicago's Gavin Floyd and drilled it into left-center field, just below the rocks at Angel Stadium. On Thursday, he got a high, outside-corner, 3-1 fastball from White Sox lefty Chris Sale and drove it out to straightaway center field.
For a guy who had pulled a whopping 71 percent of the balls he had put in play heading into Tuesday, those swings marked progress.
And from a No. 3 hitter who came into Friday's series opener against the Padres still hitting just .214 with three homers, the Angels will take any signs of that.
"There's always some signs that he's moving forward, but the way he puts it, he feels really comfortable about the process and where he's going to end up," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He says that when he gets there, you'll see a big difference."
The Angels haven't really seen a big difference yet, per se. Only flashes, sprinkled in among several at-bats that Pujols has started out behind in the count before producing grounders to the left side or weak popups to the right.
Pujols has been producing better lately, batting .309 in his last eight games entering Friday and driving in 13 runs in his last 11, but the last thing a power hitter wants to see is spacious Petco Park.
"This is a big ballpark," Scioscia said. "This ballpark isn't very forgiving. Your mis-hits right here aren't going to go out of the park. We'll just see how that goes. But he hits three rockets, line drives that are caught against the wall, in this park, I don't think you're going to consider it a failure that he didn't get any hits. He's had some good at-bats, and that's all you can control."
Pujols open to playing third in NL parks
SAN DIEGO -- It turns out the Angels may not need American League rules to get their three most dangerous hitters in the same lineup.
Albert Pujols can just man the hot corner again.
The Angels' $240 million first baseman approached manager Mike Scioscia recently to tell him he's open to playing third base, which would allow Mark Trumbo (as a corner outfielder) and Kendrys Morales (at first base) to also be in the lineup in National League parks.
"He feels very comfortable down there," Scioscia said. "We'll take a look at it and see."
The Angels' skipper said he's "a long way off" from using Pujols at the hot corner, and it won't happen during the weekend series against the Padres. But that flexibility could be key during a six-game road trip to Colorado and Los Angeles from June 8-13, with the Angels not having to sit Pujols to get Morales in the lineup.
"I think short term, a game or two, I don't think that would be a problem," Scioscia said. "I don't think it's something we would want to take an extended look at, but we'll see."
Pujols played third base almost exclusively in his only Minor League season in 2000 and totaled 96 games there in his first two seasons in the Majors. He also made seven appearances at the hot corner with the Cardinals last year and had been taking some grounders at third during batting practice recently -- granted, with his first-base mitt.
The key is Morales, though.
The Angels want to be cautious with the switch-hitter's workload defensively, considering he's still early in his first season back from two ankle surgeries and recently nursed a tight Achilles tendon around the same area. But the club also doesn't want to be without his bat for almost a week of Interleague Play.
"I don't think it's anything we're going to make a decision on right now," Scioscia said. "We're going to progress with Kendrys at first and see if it becomes anything that's a possibility later in the summer."
Frieri thriving in setup role with Angels
SAN DIEGO - Angels reliever Ernesto Frieri spent 15 minutes fraternizing on the field with good friends while the Padres were taking batting practice at Petco Park -- then he realized that's no longer his home.
"I was like, 'I can't be talking to you guys anymore,'" Frieri said in Spanish Friday. "'You're the enemy now.'"
It was a little over two weeks ago that the Angels plucked Frieri from a Padres team they're now facing in a weekend set, acquiring the right-hander in exchange for infielder Alexi Amarista -- now the everyday San Diego second baseman following the release of Orlando Hudson -- and Minor League pitcher Donn Roach.
Since switching over, all Frieri has done is put up zeroes and compile strikeouts, hurling 5 2/3 hitless innings while walking four and striking out 12.
Frieri won't keep that pace up, but he is known for his strikeout totals -- he's averaged 11.7 K's per nine innings through 110 appearances in the big leagues -- and he should continue to be effective with his lively fastball and deceptive delivery.
In San Diego, Frieri was buried in the middle innings, with guys like Luke Gregerson and, previously, Mike Adams and Heath Bell, pitching late in games.
But in Anaheim's depleted relief corps, Frieri has a crucial late-inning role. He had been pitched mostly as a setup man to closer Scott Downs, but in Friday's 7-2 win, Downs pitched the eighth and Frieri pitched the ninth. And had the Angels not scored three in the top half, the 26-year-old right-hander would've come on for his first Major League save.
The situation played out that way because Angels manager Mike Scioscia wanted to use Downs' left arm against an array of Padres lefty hitters who were coming up earlier in the game.
It's Frieri's success that has given him the freedom to do that.
"It might change tomorrow," Scioscia said, "but right now, we're going to match up a little bit late in the game."
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.