When Mike Scioscia fills out his lineup card, he feels like a house painter short on supplies.
“We've got five holes in our wall and enough spackle for three holes,” the Angels manager said before Tuesday night's 4-1 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks. “Which ones do you want to fill?”
With that in mind, Scioscia rearranged the top of his order again, yielding to the configuration he has resisted since slugger Albert Pujols signed with the Angels before 2012.
Mike Trout moved from second to third, and Pujols, who hit third in all 473 games he started for the Angels before Tuesday, moved to cleanup, a spot he made 239 career starts at in 15 years, none since 2010. Kole Calhoun went from cleanup to second, behind leadoff man Erick Aybar.
“It's very evident that the groupings we have now have been ineffective, not so much because [Trout and Pujols] are hitting second and third, but it's just something we have to try,” Scioscia said. “If we can get guys on base ahead of them earlier in games, maybe it'll help spark some things.”
The new order didn't produce a breakout game Tuesday — the Angels managed eight hits, they failed to put a leadoff man on base and had only three at-bats, and no hits, with runners in scoring position.
But Trout and Pujols looked comfortable in their new spots, Trout drawing a two-out walk in the sixth inning and Pujols following with a towering two-run home run to center field to give the Angels a 2-1 lead.
No. 5 hitter David Freese added two big insurance runs in the eighth when he drove a two-run homer to right, his 10th of the season.
“We got some clutch hits from guys who are important to us … but the new lineup wasn't a factor,” Scioscia said. “We didn't get much going. We didn't have a leadoff runner on all night, and that's a tough way to go. We'll continue to move forward, try to find solutions and see if we can put more pressure on teams.”
Calhoun, Trout and Pujols are not the problem. They have been the most consistent and productive hitters in an offense that ranks 25th in the major leagues with a .681 OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage) despite hitting 27 homers in the last 19 games and 22nd in runs per game (3.92).
But there has been a cliff-like drop after the fourth and fifth spots, with Freese providing power and some clutch hits (34 runs batted in) while hitting .241, and Matt Joyce (.181) and Chris Iannetta (.159) providing very little.
Putting Aybar and Calhoun in front of Trout (18 homers, 39 RBIs) and Pujols (American League-leading 19 homers, 36 RBIs) could create more RBI opportunities, “especially early in the game,” Scioscia said. “Our goal is to lengthen our lineup and set the table for the guys in the middle better.
“I think our best lineup connects Kole, Mike and Albert. This accomplishes that, and if Erick can get hot, he can be a spark at the top.”
A player who drops one spot in the lineup will get roughly 19 fewer plate appearances in a season. With the Angels 65 games in, that amounts to about 10 fewer plate appearances for Trout and Pujols if the Angels stick with this lineup.
“That's minimal compared to what we need,” Scioscia said. “The hope is that this will create more quality situations for them. That's something we weighed very heavily. The feeling was unanimous that we need to try to adjust some things.”
Scioscia informed Trout, Pujols and Calhoun of the changes Tuesday afternoon.
“He's trying to shake things up a little bit,” said Trout, who has hit third when Pujols is hurt. “I'm going to get some more RBI opportunities, for sure.”
Calhoun hopes the switch sparks the offense.
“I'm up for it,” he said. “Let's see how it goes. If something sticks, we'll stay with it. I just want to get on base for those guys.”