Albert Pujols’ constant foot pain might force Angels into painful decision
Albert Pujols’ right foot hurts when he hits in the batting cage, when he does warm-up sprints before games, when he takes one of his mighty hacks in the batter’s box and when he runs the bases.
“It’s sore right now, just sitting here,” Pujols said at his locker before Friday night’s game against the Minnesota Twins was rained out. It will be made up as part of a split-doubleheader Saturday. “I got two injections [of pain medication] last week. They didn’t work.”
Pujols, who injured the foot Aug. 28, is clearly in pain, and his performance is suffering. He is hitless in his last 20 at-bats, the second-longest drought of his career. The longest was an 0-for-23 skid in April of 2012. Though he has 35 homers and 83 runs batted in, Pujols is hitting .239.
“Look at how I’m hitting,” Pujols said. “I can’t drive off my back foot. I’m using my upper body a lot more. That’s the reality. But you know me. I’m not looking for excuses. I told you guys two weeks ago, I’m not going to throw in the towel on my team. I’m going to give the best I have.”
The question Manager Mike Scioscia might have to face: Is there a point where the best Pujols has, given his current condition, is not as good as another option at designated hitter?
“This has impacted what he needs to do in the box — he’s not quite as crisp as he would be if he wasn’t hurt,” Scioscia said. “But he’s still hitting the ball hard, he’s putting the ball in play and giving us great at-bats. He’s vital to what we need to do. It’s there.”
Pujols has a 33% hard-hit percentage on the season according to Fangraphs, a slight drop from his career rate of 36%. He has a 30% hard-hit rate since the injury. He’s also had some bad luck. His .214 batting average on balls in play is a steep drop from his .297 career BABIP.
But Pujols did hit a home run off Oakland ace Sonny Gray on Sept. 2 and a game-winning single off hard-throwing Dodgers reliever Pedro Baez on Sept. 9.
“The last two weeks, that’s not the player I am,” Pujols said. “I’m playing hurt. I’m going to play hurt.”
If Pujols, who bats cleanup behind Mike Trout, continues to struggle, it could reduce the number of pitches Trout gets to hit. Trout hit two home runs, including a grand slam, in six plate appearances in Thursday night’s 11-8 win over the Twins. He walked in three of the others.
“The depth of our lineup is important,” Scioscia said. “You’re not going to put it all on one guy, but whatever Mike creates with a hit or a walk, it’s something you want to take advantage of, and Albert will.”
Scioscia is not thrilled about the large gap between games Saturday. The first game will start at 10 a.m. PDT, and the second will start at 4 p.m.
“Split-doubleheaders are never a favorite for anybody,” he said. “The noon [CDT] start is early, and there’s a lag time between games where guys stiffen up.”
The Angels had a split double-header against the Boston Red Sox in Anaheim on July 20, the games starting at 2 and 7 p.m. The Angels won both by a combined score of 18-4.
With expanded September rosters, the teams will have plenty of players and pitchers to cover both games, but the Angels and Twins are fighting for a playoff spot and will want to use their best players as much as possible.
“We’ll see how Game 1 goes and take it one step at a time,” Scioscia said. “We’ll have enough time between games to figure this stuff out.”
The rainout will require the Angels to add a sixth starter next Wednesday in Houston. Matt Shoemaker will return from a forearm strain and start Sunday against the Twins, and Jered Weaver (Monday) and Hector Santiago (Tuesday) will start the first two games at Houston. Nick Tropeano is expected to start Wednesday.
Kole Calhoun was rated the best right fielder in the American League in the latest Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) defensive index rankings, which were released Friday.
The ranking, which is gleaned from a series of defensive metrics, accounts for 25% of the formula used to determine Gold Glove Award winners.
Trout was rated the AL’s fourth-best center fielder behind Tampa Bay’s Kevin Kiermaier, Toronto’s Kevin Pillar and Kansas City’s Lorenzo Cain, and Pujols was rated the second-best first baseman behind Mike Napoli.
Left-hander Andrew Heaney (6-3, 3.32 ERA) will oppose Minnesota right-hander Kyle Gibson (10-10, 3.71) at Target Field on Saturday at 10 a.m. PDT. Right-hander Garrett Richards (13-11, 3.81) will oppose Minnesota right-hander Mike Pelfrey (6-9, 4.09) at 4 p.m. PDT. TV: FS West; Radio: 830, 1330.
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