4/21/2014 7:49 P.M. ET
Pujols appreciates what 500 homers would mean
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
WASHINGTON -- Now that he's two homers away from 500, Albert Pujols' family will be in New York for the three-game weekend series against the Yankees. But the Angels' first baseman still has three games at Nationals Park, so Pujols' wife, Deidre, told him that if he hits No. 499, they're immediately boarding a flight for Washington, D.C.
"I told her, 'The way I'm hitting, you better get on a jet,'" Pujols joked before Monday's series opener against the Nationals, mainly tongue-in-cheek because he's simply not comfortable talking about his pursuit of 500 homers.
Pujols batted .280/.349/.587 with a team-leading six homers and 14 RBIs in his first 18 games, and said through a team spokesman on Saturday that he doesn't want to talk about becoming the 26th member of the 500-home run club until it actually happens.
Pujols doesn't want that to be confused with not having an appreciation for the milestone, however.
"There's been [almost 18,000 people] to play this game, and I'd be the 26th [to hit 500 homers]," Pujols said. "I'd have to be an idiot, or stupid, not to appreciate that. I do appreciate that. I don't want people to think, 'Oh, he doesn't care about it.' It's just that when I'm in the season, I don't want to get caught up in it. I don't know, man. The moment's going to determine everything."
Hitting it in New York would have special meaning to Pujols, simply because of all the history in the Bronx. But Nationals Park was where he reached another milestone, when he became the third-youngest player to reach 400 homers, on Aug. 26, 2010.
Cardinals skipper and ex-teammate Mike Matheny recently said Pujols "doesn't allow himself to enjoy much in the game, because he's always pushing."
Pujols agrees with that statement, and is quite proud of it.
"I wouldn't change a thing, I can tell you that," Pujols said. "It's not that I don't appreciate the moments. I do appreciate the moments, because I know what they mean. And all that appreciation comes with the hard work and the dedication. But at the same time, it's so tough during the season to try to appreciate stuff. Because you know that it's not about you. It's about this group that we have here. And that's what you need to think about. Whenever you start to think about you, then all that success and that caring you have for others starts fading. And I don't want to feel that."
Trout not getting caught up in comparisons
WASHINGTON -- The Angels were in Detroit last weekend, and the dominant storyline revolved around Mike Trout matching up against Miguel Cabrera, two players who have gone head-to-head for the American League Most Valuable Player Award in back-to-back years. The Angels are in the nation's capital now, and it's all about Trout sharing the same field as Bryce Harper, the fellow phenom many believe can be Larry Bird to Trout's Magic Johnson, or vice-versa.
"This is the most tickets I've ever left today," said Trout, who opened up 15 seats to family and friends who made the 150-mile commute from his hometown of Millville, N.J.
"Sometimes it gets a little overwhelming, because you want to see everybody and talk to everybody. Sometimes it's tough. You have a lot of things to do, and you have to prepare for the game, obviously."
It can be a lot to take on for any player, not to mention a 22-year-old one. But the Angels don't worry so much about that with Trout, because he's never given indication that any of this actually gets to him.
"They talk about him having five tools, but I think he has 10," Angels first baseman Albert Pujols said, referring to Trout's innate ability to simplify the game and never let the outside noise distract him from what he has to do within the lines.
Pujols had a talk with Trout before the Angels kicked off a series from Comerica Park on Friday, to make sure he didn't get caught up in the comparisons with Cabrera or Harper. But it might not have even been necessary.
"It's not about him," Pujols said. "It's about what he can do to help this ballclub. Young players, especially 22 years old, don't do that in this era. That's what I admire the most about him."
Trout and Harper played together on the Arizona Fall League in 2011 -- "There was a lot of hype, but we were terrible," Trout said, laughing -- and then against one another in the All-Star Game last year. But this is the first time the two phenoms, both Rookie of the Year Award winners in 2012, play against one another in a regular-season game.
Trout doesn't like to look at it that way, even while everybody else does.
"It's not like we really compete against each other," Trout said. "We're both trying to get hits, obviously. For me, if I try to do too much, that's when I get in trouble. I'm just trying to win ballgames."
Scuffling Freese gets break from lineup in series opener
WASHINGTON -- David Freese is healthy enough to play now, having fully recovered from the tight right quad that kept him out of the lineup on Friday and Saturday and relegated him to designated hitter duties on Sunday -- but he still was on the bench for Monday's series opener in D.C.
Freese went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Tigers, putting his slash line at .143/.197/.196, and Angels manager Mike Scioscia instead went with the left-handed-hitting Ian Stewart on Monday. Scioscia said it had more to do with the splits of Nats right-hander Tanner Roark, who had limited opposing right-handed hitters to a .423 OPS that's far lower than the .754 OPS lefties had hit off him.
But the move isn't necessary if Freese is right at the plate.
"Things will be great -- real soon," Freese said. "I'm excited about that. Sometimes things feel further away than they really are. I'm right around the corner. It's not my swing. It's what I'm swinging at. That's the first thing that a lot of guys forget to look at. A lot of guys think it's mechanical. You just have to have hard-nosed at-bats, take your walks, hit stuff hard, and you'll like the outcome."
In 61 plate appearances to start the year, Freese walked four times, struck out 17 times and homered once, while carrying the lowest OPS in the Majors (.393). His April is starting to look a lot like last season's, when he hit .163/.255/.204 while battling a lower back injury.
But there's a major difference.
"I feel great," Freese said. "This isn't like last year. I feel great physically."
He's still waiting for that to translate into results, however.
"There is a level of confidence that needs to grow with David," Scioscia said. "I think coming to a new team, league, he wants it to happen yesterday. He's working hard, understands what he's trying to do at the plate, and I think he will exhale when he gets some hits to fall in, and when he starts driving the ball again."
• Angels lefty reliever Sean Burnett, still making his way back from August elbow surgery, recently threw a bullpen session, his second since experiencing his latest setback. His next step is to pitch in a simulated game. Dane De La Rosa (right shoulder irritation) is slated to throw his first bullpen session since landing on the disabled list on Tuesday.
• Scioscia is still searching for a consistent third reliever who can join his setup man and closer, saying: "It puts a lot of pressure on Joe Smith and [Ernesto] Frieri to be really the only two guys who are throwing the ball at a level to shut games down. Whether it's Michael Kohn or Fernando Salas, some of these guys has to move deeper into the game, or we're going to have trouble finding that continuity."
• With right-handed reliever Josh Wall getting optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake after Sunday's game, the Angels recalled from Salt Lake Nick Maronde, the 24-year-old left-hander who was charged with one earned run in three innings out of the bullpen earlier this season. Maronde, the only lefty in the bullpen, gave up two runs in 4 2/3 innings in his short stint with the Bees.
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.