April 6, 2012; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols (5) at bat in the first inning against the Kansas City Royals at Angel Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
By Seth Livingstone, USA TODAY
Albert Pujols is making it fair to question the power of Angels -- or at least their wisdom.
The man, who was supposed to inject new levels of offense into the Los Angeles lineup for the Princely sum (yes, that is a Fielder reference) of about $25 million per year, remains homerless after 18 games. Worse yet, after going 0-for-3 in Wednesday's 3-2 loss to the Rays, Pujols is hitless in 19 at-bats, batting .222 with three RBI this season.
Pujols is hitless in five consecutive games for the first time since his 2001 rookie season. And his slump is magnified by the fact that the Angels, expected to contend with the hard-hitting Texas Rangers, are off to a 6-12 start and falling fast.
Sixteen games into his homerless funk, Pujols maintained he wasn't concerned.
"I know I have power," Pujols said. "I know I can hit the ball from corner to corner. I know all that, but I'm not going to think about getting caught up and saying, 'Man, I haven't hit a home run.' ... I have, what, 445 for a reason."
Those 445 homers came in 11 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, with whom he went 27 games (April 24-May 22) without hitting a home run last year. But Angels owner Arte Moreno and all of Los Angeles have to be wondering 'what's up' with a guy who has historically homered once every 14.3 at-bats.
Nearly a week ago, USA TODAY's Paul White noted that Pujols wasn't drawing walks. The Orange County Register this week offered 10 reasons why Pujols isn't hitting - everything from chasing bad pitches, to adjusting to a new league, to pressing at the plate, to just plain getting old.
The paper's Jeff Miller notes it could be worse. The Angels could have signed Carl Crawford a year earlier. After hitting .255 with 11 homers in his first year after signing a seven-year, $142 million contract with the Red Sox, Crawford hasn't played this season and is sidelined indefinitely with an elbow problem. "Not landing Crawford looks like the greatest thing former general manager Tony Reagins ever did," Miller writes.
But it wasn't supposed to be this way with Pujols. Waking up on Dec. 8 to news that the Angels had landed Pujols, Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke declared:
"After striking out on seemingly every impact free agent in recent years, the Angels stunningly hit one out of the park Thursday morning, adding the only player powerful enough to knock them back onto Los Angeles' sports landscape. ...The new first baseman will reportedly cost Arte Moreno $250 million for 10 years. The only thing crazier than those numbers is the fact that, in this market, for this team, Pujols is worth every penny."
Teammates believe Pujols just needs to get comfortable with his new environment.
Torii Hunter tells the Register's Bill Plunkett: "The expectations, the responsibility. He's just gotta get comfortable ... I've been there before. I did feel that pressure on me. But my personality - I get along with everyone so I felt like I fit in right away. And I didn't change leagues."
Vernon Wells struggled when he left the Blue Jays for Anaheim; "It was different than I anticipated. You never know what to expect never having made that big a change before. ... There's a lot that goes into it, and then you add the challenge of switching leagues for him. ... They're probably pitching him different than he's used to being pitched. But if there's anyone who can figure it out, I'd put my money on him."
Manager Mike Scioscia says all concerned must avoid the temptation to panic. "He's feeling some frustration. He wants to get this thing going. I don't know about pressing. He wanted it to happen yesterday. He knows what it's going to mean when he starts swinging the way he can. He just has to be patient."
Easy to say, hard to do when your team has fallen 8 ½ games behind the defending league champs in April.