While the Angels took their first wobbly steps into an immediate future without star center fielder Mike Trout, slugger Albert Pujols moved another step closer to history Monday night.
Pujols drove the 598th home run of his career to left-center field in the fourth inning of the Angels’ 6-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves, giving the Angel Stadium crowd reason to cheer on a day Trout went on the disabled list because of a torn left thumb ligament.
Pujols is trying to become the ninth player in major league history to hit 600 home runs, joining Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714), Alex Rodriguez (696), Willie Mays (660), Ken Griffey Jr. (630), Jim Thome (612) and Sammy Sosa (609).
Luis Valbuena followed Pujols’ seventh homer of the season with a homer to right, cutting Atlanta’s lead to 6-3. The Angels put runners on second and third with two outs in the fifth, but Kole Calhoun struck out against starter Julio Teheran.
They loaded the bases with one out in the seventh, but reliever Jose Ramirez got Cameron Maybin to ground into a double play. Five Angels relievers — Mike Morin, Yusmeiro Petit, Jose Alvarez, Blake Parker and Keynan Middleton — combined for 6 1/3 one-hit innings in which they struck out nine.
Andrelton Simmons homered to center to give the Angels a 1-0 lead in the second. The Braves scored six runs against starter Ricky Nolasco in the third, though four were unearned after a two-out error by third baseman Cliff Pennington on Tyler Flowers’ one-hop smash extended the inning.
Matt Adams drove in the first two runs with a ground-rule double to left. A third run scored on the error. Rio Ruiz followed with an RBI single to right, and Danny Santana’s two-run double off the right-field wall made it 6-1.
Third baseman Yunel Escobar, out since May 15 because of a left-hamstring strain, is on the verge of returning after he ran the bases for a third straight day Monday. Escobar, who is batting .266 with five homers and 17 RBIs, has been hitting and taking ground balls for week.
Reliever Cam Bedrosian (right groin strain) has begun a throwing program in Arizona and is expected to begin a rehabilitation assignment soon.
Alex Meyer completed a bullpen workout Monday, and manager Mike Scioscia said the right-hander will be folded into the rotation Sunday or early next week. Right-hander Parker Bridwell, who was 2-1 with an 0.92 ERA in four triple-A games, will start in Meyer’s place against the Braves on Tuesday night.
When Bartolo Colon left the Angels after his four-year, $51-million contract expired in 2007, he was a portly 34-year-old with a bum shoulder that limited him to 28 starts in 2006 and 2007.
Colon, nicknamed “The Big Sexy,” will return to the Angel Stadium mound a portly 44-year-old Tuesday night when the 5-foot-11, 285-pound right-hander, who is 89-72 with a 3.81 ERA in 210 games since he left Anaheim, starts for the Braves.
“He’s a special athlete — don’t be fooled by his body,” Scioscia said. “This guy is very coordinated and has a really clean delivery. Once his shoulder healed up, he came back and has been throwing the ball well. I don’t know that I thought he’d be doing this at age 44, but we all felt like he’d bounce back.”
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