6/10/2014 9:38 P.M. ET
Conger: Richards is worthy of All-Star nod
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- Can Garrett Richards be an All-Star in his first full season in a Major League rotation?
The Angels' 26-year-old right-hander is certainly making his case.
Richards, who has allowed just one run and walked zero batters in his last 15 innings, is 6-2 with a 3.09 ERA in his last 13 starts. He ranks ninth in the American League in ERA, fifth in WHIP (1.10), 10th in strikeouts (77) and fourth in fielding independent pitching (2.65), while allowing just two home runs in 81 2/3 innings.
Richards' catcher, Hank Conger, knows first-half surges, win totals and cache carry a lot of weight when it comes to being selected to the All-Star Game, but he said Richards has "the best stuff of anyone I've ever caught" and believes he's an All-Star starter nonetheless.
"Personally, for me, quality-wise and stuff-wise and everything, I think he's an All-Star pitcher, and that's just how I feel about it," Conger said. "I think by the time this season is over -- not to put pressure on him or anything -- you're going to look back at his numbers and you're going to be like, 'Wow. That's a really good season for a guy who's in his first year of being an everyday starter.'"
Pujols opens up about struggles
ANAHEIM -- Albert Pujols looked poised for a breakout season, then the Angels got into the month of May, and now the nine-time All-Star first baseman is fighting himself all over again. Pujols entered Tuesday's contest against the A's batting .183 in his previous 30 games and sporting an overall .245/.303/.482 slash line that's hard for him to even look at.
"It just [stinks]," Pujols said, "because I had a great April, I had a great start to May, and all of a sudden, it seems like after that Toronto trip, that's when everything went downhill for me."
Pujols was batting .293 when the Angels entered a four-game series on the hard turf at Rogers Centre on May 9, and he left it complaining of lingering soreness in his lower half. Those issues subsided a while ago, Pujols said, but that series is the only reasonable explanation the 34-year-old can come up with for why he's struggling so much again.
"It's tough, man," Pujols said. "I'm going through a little bit of a tough period. But I'm glad it's happening now rather than later."
Most disturbing of all are Pujols' uncommon struggles with runners in scoring position. He entered the 2014 season batting an ungodly .334/.468/.632 in that situation. This year, he's slashing .149/.275/.257 with runners in scoring position, while leading the Majors with 91 plate appearances in those situations.
"Shoot, if I would've had one of those great couple of months, I probably would've had 80 RBIs right now," said Pujols, who instead has 35 RBIs to go along with 15 home runs. "It's frustrating."
But Angels manager Mike Scioscia continues to bat Pujols third, right behind Mike Trout and right in front of Josh Hamilton, because, as he said, "Albert's presence is huge in the middle of our lineup."
Scioscia referenced the amount of opportunities several other hitters are getting with runners in scoring position and said, "The way we line up right now is really going to be our best look. We want this to continue to evolve, and Albert will find it. We know that."
Pujols takes solace in the fact that his work ethic is as strong as it's ever been, and his approach at the plate is sound, particularly with regards to the balls he's been driving to the opposite field recently. He credited his faith and the experiences he went through at the start of 2012 -- being in a new city and retreating to a 700-square-foot apartment by himself, while dealing with the most catastrophic slump of his career -- for keeping him strong mentally in the face of all this.
"That taught me a lot of things," Pujols said of his first season with the Angels. "It was crazy. I don't even want to think about it. There were times when I would go home by myself and think, 'Should I just pack my suitcase and go home?'"
Pujols missed his family, which was still in St. Louis, and had no idea who he was anymore, but overcame it all and went on a 4 1/2-month tear that put his numbers right in line with the best first basemen in the game.
He's confident it'll happen for him again.
"It won't be like this all year -- trust me," Pujols said.
"Hitters like Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, myself -- not getting cocky, but we only need three months in the season to get our numbers."
Scioscia mourns loss of special friend in Welch
ANAHEIM -- Bob Welch's death hit Angels manager Mike Scioscia hard.
With the Dodgers from 1980-87, Scioscia was Welch's catcher, behind the plate for eight of the 14 seasons that made the hard-throwing right-hander a legend -- one who ultimately finished with 211 wins, 1,969 strikeouts and a 3.47 ERA in 3,092 innings over the course of a 17-year career.
"Welch was a special guy, and we lost a really good friend," Scioscia said Tuesday, hours after it was revealed that the 57-year-old Welch had suffered a fatal heart attack. "I'm sure I'm speaking for a lot of people here."
Welch, who died in Seal Beach, Calif., on Monday night, spent his first 10 seasons with the Dodgers and his last seven with the A's, making two trips to the All-Star Game, winning the American League Cy Young Award while in Oakland in 1990 and famously striking out Reggie Jackson as a rookie to end Game 2 of the 1978 World Series.
"He was really easy to catch because he had such great command," said Scioscia, who had spoken to Welch a couple of months ago. "He had a great arm, but what made him so special, even at a young age, was the way he could command the corners and with his velocity. He was just a great talent. But that wasn't really what he was about. Every time there was a road block, he got over it. He didn't take the easiest path, but he was a solid, solid guy."
• Hank Conger made a rare start against an opposing lefty on Tuesday because manager Mike Scioscia liked the way he's been working with Hector Santiago, saying: "Even though it's a small sample, we want to see if it's something that might help Hector."
• After the Thursday off-day, Scioscia is planning to keep the rotation order the same, having C.J. Wilson, Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker start the three games in Atlanta, respectively. But that can change based on whether the Angels use Shoemaker out of the bullpen before then, and the Angels can push one of their starters back if needed.
• After umpires overturned an initial Mike Trout home run due to fan interference, the yellow line above the right-field scoreboard was repainted prior to Tuesday's game. Scioscia reiterated Tuesday that he doesn't believe there was conclusive evidence to overturn the home run, and even if there was, the Angels' manager believed Trout should've been standing on third base, not second.
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.