Angels bench slumping sluggers Albert Pujols and Justin Upton two days in a row
Slumping sluggers Albert Pujols and Justin Upton were not in the Angels’ lineup for a second straight game Sunday, leaving some $50 million in original 2020 salaries on the bench for the series finale against the Dodgers in Angel Stadium.
Pujols, 40, is batting .186 (11 for 59) with a .594 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, three homers and eight RBIs in 15 games, a significant dropoff from his production in 2019, when he hit .244 with a .734 OPS, 23 homers and 93 RBIs. His lifetime batting average has dipped below .300 — to .299 — for the first time in his 20-year career.
It marks the first time in Pujols’ nine-year Angels career that he hasn’t started two games in a row when he wasn’t sidelined by injury. The three-time most valuable player needs one home run to tie Willie Mays for fifth place on baseball’s all-time list with 660 homers.
“He’s fine,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said, when asked if the first baseman was healthy. “I’m just trying to move it around, give more opportunity to different people. He’s going to continue to play. Just for these two days, I wanted to go a different route.”
Former Angels manager Mike Scioscia used to occasionally give struggling hitters entire weekends off in regular 162-game seasons, to allow them to clear their heads, but Maddon said he does not believe Pujols is at a point where he needs a mental break from the daily grind.
Angels manager Joe Maddon said shortstop David Fletcher’s play on a ground ball by Mookie Betts on Saturday night was as good as he’s ever seen.
“I honestly don’t see that,” Maddon said. “He’s been upbeat, and we’ve had good conversations. In the micro-season that we’re experiencing right now, I don’t think it’s gotten to the point where guys are beaten up. They’re just frustrated a little bit, looking for that answer that gets them on the right track.
“That’s what I’m seeing with him and Justin too. They’re veteran players who just need a little more time to get it all sorted out. … He’ll be back out there. J-Up will be back out there too. They’re working, but I have not seen that moment where you clamor for that mental break.”
Upton, who will turn 33 this month, is batting .107 (six for 56) with a .405 OPS, two homers and six RBIs in 16 games and has struck out 22 times. He missed much of 2019 because of injuries but hit .257 with an .808 OPS, 30 homers and 85 RBIs in 2018.
“He’s hit a certain way his whole career and he’s been very successful, so you’re not trying to change anything,” Maddon said of his conversations with Upton. “Maybe just point out different things, remind him of different things or just listen to him, and a lot of times these guys will answer their own questions. Just trying to support him and remind him what got him to this particular point.”
Upton’s struggles prompted the team to call up top outfield prospect Jo Adell and push Brian Gordon from right field to left field, cutting into Upton’s playing time and opportunities to find his swing.
Asked how he would gauge Upton’s confidence right now, Maddon said, “Well, of course it’s taken a hit, but there’s still time. I know everybody thinks there’s no time, but there is time, and you never know when the switch is going to come on and all of a sudden someone takes off.”
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