Albert Pujols will bat third — as he always has — for the Angels in the opener of an interleague series against the Atlanta Braves on Friday night, and Manager Mike Scioscia does not seem inclined to move the slugger down in the lineup despite a slump that has dragged on for more than a month.
Pujols hit .302 with a .368 on-base percentage, .597 slugging percentage, 10 home runs and 26 runs batted in through May 6, a span of 32 games.
But in 32 games since, he has a .195/.245/.367 slash line with five homers and nine RBIs. He is also hitting just .145 (11 for 76) with runners in scoring position, far below his .327 career mark in those situations.
“His recent track record, if you look at the way he struggled in 2012, when he got going last year, this guy’s gonna hit, and he’s gonna hit big,” Scioscais said. “He will respond to the challenge. Right now, I think we’re lining up where we need to. You always consider adjustments, but we’re not there.”
After signing a 10-year, $240-million contract before 2012, Pujols, now 34, hit .190 with one homer and nine RBIs through May 8 in his first season with the Angels. But he recovered to hit .285 with 30 homers, 50 doubles and 105 RBIs on the season.
Hobbled all last season by painful plantar fasciitis in his left foot, Pujols hit .258 with 17 homers and 64 RBIs before suffering a season-ending injury in late July.
Pujols, the former St. Louis Cardinals star, is a three-time National League most valuable player and two-time World Series champion. Scioscia wouldn’t come right out and say it, but it is always difficult to move a player of Pujols’ stature out of the third spot.
“When you’re looking at how the whole lineup is going to work, the only reason you’d consider moving a player is to jump-start them for the overall good of the lineup,” Scioscia said. “Albert has had a tough 100 at-bats, that’s very clear. . . . But for the whole lineup to work, guys need to get pitches, and we need to take advantage of some of the things we’re creating.”
A return to Atlanta and a game against Braves right-hander Aaron Harang could be just what Pujols needs to snap out of his slump.
Pujols has a .347 career average (87 for 251) against Atlanta, the second-best mark among active players, and he has 13 homers in 26 career games in Turner Field. Pujols also has a .342 average (27 for 79) with five homers and 16 RBIs against Harang.