Struggling Albert Pujols is benched for a night

The Angels figured Albert Pujols would have the bat taken out of his hands this season by opponents looking to intentionally walk or pitch around the slugger, not by their own manager.

But with the first baseman mired in the worst slump of what many consider a Hall of Fame career, Mike Scioscia benched Pujols on Saturday night against the Blue Jays, the first time in 28 games he didn’t write Pujols’ name into the third spot.

Pujols, hitting .194 with no home runs and five runs batted in, did not participate in batting practice. In fact, Scioscia told him to not pick up a bat.

Scioscia had hoped to take advantage of the designated hitter spot to start Pujols in all 162 games this season, but with Pujols going from what General Manager Jerry Dipoto calls “the best hitter on the planet” to one of the least-productive hitters in the game in the first month of 2012, it was time for a mental break.

“Sometimes when you’re pounding your head against the wall and you take a half-step back and to the right a huge door opens,” Scioscia said. “We want to give him a little breather, a day to refresh, get him off the treadmill and get him back in there [Sunday].”

Pujols spoke to reporters Friday night after he was booed in Angel Stadium following his last two at-bats in a 4-0 loss to Toronto, but he did not discuss Saturday’s benching with beat reporters.

“Go ask the manager,” Pujols said. “I don’t make the lineup.”

Pujols’ slump — he has gone a career-high 108 at-bats without a homer and is not driving the ball with any kind of authority — has baffled many around the game and is a growing concern for the Angels, who signed the 32-year-old to a 10-year, $240-million contract in December.

Pujols has not showed his frustration publicly, but he is clearly pressing. Reducing him to a cheerleader for one night, a tack Scioscia often takes with struggling players, can’t hurt.

“A day off can be good — clear your head, watch a game, and you see things differently,” right fielder Torii Hunter said. “I think it will be beneficial for him. Don’t touch a bat, don’t even go outside for B.P. Just relax and get away from it for a night, because 95% of this is mental. It’s not physical. He’s healthy. Sometimes you need a break, like all of us, not just athletes.”

Short hops

Jered Weaver, who will start Monday against the Twins in Minnesota, will be the first pitcher since Derek Lowe in 2002 to throw a no-hitter and face the same team in his next start. Lowe, then with the Boston Red Sox, no-hit Tampa Bay that April 27 and allowed three earned runs in seven innings of a 7-5 win over the Rays on May 4. . . . Peter Bourjos was not in the lineup for the fifth time in six games Saturday, but Scioscia said the center fielder will start Sunday. . . . Catcher Chris Iannetta (sore right wrist) did not start for a third straight game Saturday but expects to play Sunday. . . . The Angels traded 7-foot-1 minor league pitcher Loek Van Mil to the Cleveland Indians for future considerations.