Posted on: March 5, 2012 5:58 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2012 7:25 pm
PHOENIX -- Maybe Albert Pujols knew there was a designated hitter in the American League. But did anyone tell him you get to bat every inning in the Junior Circuit?
Forgive him if he begins to think that's the case after his first Cactus League game. He christened the Angels' portion of his career with a 2 for 3 afternoon against the beleaguered Athletics, including saying hello with an RBI double in the first.
"That was fun," Pujols said after being removed from the game in the fourth with the Angels leading 9-0. "Hopefully, we get to do a lot of that this year."
The Angels' two high-priced free agents each debuted on an overcast Monday afternoon. C.J. Wilson, who signed a five-year, $77.5 million deal during the offseason, worked two scoreless innings, facing eight batters.
Pujols chopped a hanging curve for the double in the first against Oakland starter Brad Peacock, scorched a line single to left in the second and flied to right in the third. He saw nine pitches.
"He comes up in the first inning and knocks in a runner," Wilson said of Pujols. "We all were looking at each other in the dugout like, 'Oh yeah. That's what Albert does.'"
Pujols admitted to some pre-game jitters. He said in a typical season, he gets nervous three times: Before his first spring training at-bat, before his first regular-season at-bat and before his first postseason at-bat.
That last part is what the Angels are banking on: Pujols' Cardinals only missed the playoffs four times during his 11 seasons in St. Louis. Anything short of a run deep into October -- and, arguably, a World Series title -- will be a disappointment for the 2012 Angels.
Pujols, who signed a 10-year, $254 million deal with the Angels last winter, easily has been the focal point of the Angels during their first two weeks of camp. Not just from the fans' perspective, but from inside the clubhouse as well.
"It's cool, man," right fielder Torii Hunter said. "Pujols has been blending in just fine. Vernon Wells and I hit with him, and we're picking up a lot."
One thing that has impressed them early is that Pujols is as interested as learning from his new teammates as they are from him.
"He's not afraid to ask questions," Hunter said. "A guy like that, who has achieved so much, you'd think pride would set in and he wouldn't ask anybody for any advice. But he does. He's that humble.
"He has two World Series rings, three MVPs and he still wants to learn. I love that."
One thing Angels manager Mike Scioscia has learned about Pujols through various conversations up to and early in spring training is, Pujols likes to work in the spring, especially early.
"He historically feels like he wants his at-bats on the higher side in the spring rather than on the lower side," Scioscia said.
Pujols finished with 65 plate appearances last spring with the Cardinals (.288, three homers and 14 RBI). Look for a similar workload this spring (though for a time it appeared as if he might reach that total on Monday alone).
As for Wilson, he tinkered with his mechanics over the winter and is looking to incorporate a changeup as an important weapon this summer.
"For me, the changeup is a priority," said Wilson, who faced eight batters, walking one. "So I can add efficiency to my repertoire."
Though he worked a career-high 223 1/3 innings last season, he essentially was out of gas in October.
He figures if he can throw fewer pitches -- "you're looking at one more out a game, one less walk, one more ground ball" -- both he and the Angels will benefit.
The focus on that will come in time. But for now, the Angels remain giddy over the one-time St. Louis icon joining them. And for his part, Pujols senses the respect from even veterans like Hunter and Wells.
"It's what you have built," Pujols said. "It's something I learned in St. Louis 11 years ago. I had great teammates, and I took advantage of the veteran guys."
He ticked off a whole flurry of names, including Woody Williams, Matt Morris, Placido Polanco and Mark McGwire.
"They taught me how to play the game the right way."
Posted on: October 17, 2010 4:40 pm
Edited on: October 17, 2010 5:31 pm
PHILADELPHIA -- If Sunday night's Game 2 of the NL Championship Series is not a must-win for Philadelphia, it's the next-closest thing.
More worrisome for Phillies manager Charlie Manuel than losing Game 1 is the trend toward silence from the Philadelphia bats.
Which is why he's shaking up the top of the lineup for Game 2, flip-flopping Chase Utley and Placido Polanco in the Nos. 2 and 3 spots. Against Giants lefty starter Jonathan Sanchez, Utley will bat second (out of his usual third spot) and Polanco will hit third (down from No. 2 in Game 1).
"Same reason I always do it," Manuel said Sunday when quizzed about his reasoning. "I want have right-handed hitter in between [the two lefties, Utley and Ryan Howard]. Polanco's hitting third."
Clearly, Manuel also is reacting to the presence of Javier Lopez, the Giants' situational lefty, on the other side. Lopez got two huge outs in the eighth inning of Game 1 when he was summoned to face Utley and Howard. He dispatched Utley with a ground ball, struck out Howard, and his evening was finished.
They went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position against the Giants in Game 1 and, against Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco bullpen, did not advance a runner into scoring position after the third inning.
There was some speculation that Manuel might return shortstop Jimmy Rollins to the leadoff slot for Game 2, a thought fueled in part by Manuel saying late Saturday night that he would think about it.
After sleeping on the notion, though, Manuel discarded the idea and left Rollins in the sixth slot for Game 2, same spot in which he batted Saturday.
"Because when I looked, I like him right where he's at," Manuel said. "I look at how he's been doing and how we lined up against Sanchez. Victorino's got some hits against Sanchez [6-for-15 lifetime], and Jimmy is 1-for-16 against him. Utley's got a few hits [3-for-11].
"I looked at the way we lined up, and I like Jimmy where he's at right now."
It isn't only Sanchez against whom Rollins is scuffling. In four postseason games this fall, Rollins is hitting .067 [1-for-15].
Which makes it easy to understand Manuel's reluctance to move him back atop the lineup, because that's no small part of the reason the Phillies' offense has been sluggish.
So far in the playoffs, the top two slots in the Philadelphia order are hitting .161 [5-for-31].