Albert Pujols was hitless in 23 at-bats entering Saturday night, the second-longest drought of his career behind an 0-for-25 slump Sept. 12-19, 2015. He had a team-low .138 average yet somehow led the Angels with 10 runs batted in, which says a lot about the state of the offense these days.
With Seattle starting Felix Hernandez, who held Pujols to 11 hits in 53 at-bats (.208), it seemed like a good time to give Pujols a night off to "let him exhale a bit," as Manager Mike Scioscia likes to say in these situations.
Pujols was in the cleanup spot, just as he was for the first 17 games.
"I don't think he needs the mental break right now," Scioscia said. "He's as strong mentally as anyone who's ever played this game. He's been DH-ing, so I don't see any fatigue factor. There are no health issues. He feels good."
Pujols is no stranger to slow starts. He hit .217 with no homers and four RBIs in April 2012, his first season with the Angels after signing a 10-year, $240-million contract. He finished with a .285 average, 30 homers and 105 RBIs.
He hit .208 with three homers and nine RBIs in April 2015 and finished with a .244 average, 40 homers and 95 RBIs. Pujols is 36, with five years and $140 million left on that contract after this season, but he remains confident he will rebound just as he did in 2012 and 2015.
"I'm fine," Pujols said. "It's not like you haven't seen me struggle in April. It's a long season, man. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon. Talk to me in September and see where I'm at."
Pujols came within a few feet of breaking out of his slump in a big way in Friday night's 5-2, 10-inning loss. With the score tied in the ninth, he battled Seattle reliever Joel Peralta to a 10-pitch at-bat in which the 40-year-old right-hander quick-pitched Pujols two or three times.
After fouling off four two-strike pitches, Pujols hammered a drive to deep center field, where Leonys Martin made the catch in front of the 396-foot sign. On his way to the dugout, Pujols and Peralta exchanged words, Peralta inducing a chuckle from the sometimes-stoic slugger.
"I told him, 'Hey, dude, you got me tired, can you get out earlier or get a base hit?' " Peralta said. "I've been facing him for 12 seasons. He's a great dude. He's not young, but I'm older. I don't throw 99 mph, and I can't just challenge him. I was lucky he didn't hit it out of the park."
Left fielder Daniel Nava (tendinitis in left knee) is taking dry swings and hitting off a tee but has not started agility drills or running. He remains hopeful of returning shortly after he is eligible to come off the disabled list May 1, but he will likely need a short minor league stint. ... Hernandez's first-inning strikeout of Rafael Ortega was the 2,163rd of his career, breaking the Mariners record held by Randy Johnson. … The reason umpires did not go to replay while both managers argued what was eventually ruled a foul ball off the bat of Seattle catcher Chris Iannetta in the sixth inning Friday night? Foul balls are not reviewable.