Pujols an early bust with Angels

Los Angeles Angels' Albert Pujols reacts in the dugout after he was called out at second base...

Los Angeles Angels' Albert Pujols reacts in the dugout after he was called out at second base trying to stretch a single into extra bases during a Thursday night game against the Tampa Bay Rays. (REUTERS)

Ken Fidlin, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 8:13 PM ET

It’s hard to conceive a more inhospitable welcome to the American League than the one that has smacked Albert Pujols right between the eyes this spring.

Widely recognized as the best hitter in baseball over the last decade, Pujols is having some diffIculty adjusting to his new league and new surroundings in Los Angeles after 11 years as the heart of the St. Louis Cardinals batting order.

With the weight of a 10-year, $242 million contract hanging over him, Pujols has scuffled his way through April, still without a home run as the Angels arrived in Cleveland Friday for a weekend set against the Indians.

He came to LA after averaging over 40 homers and 110 RBI with a career OPS over 1.00. In his first 19 games, he had an on-base percentage of .280 and a slugging percentage at .316; no homers and just four RBIs.

It is possible he underestimated the massive transition he was making. After 11 seasons under the same baseball culture in St. Louis, he’s realizing he’s not in Missouri anymore. Vernon Wells, the ex-Blue Jay, is acutely aware of what it’s like to spend a huge portion of your career in one place before moving on

“It was different than I anticipated,” Wells told the Orange County Register. “You never know what to expect never having made that big a change before. But everything is just different from what you’ve been used to your whole career.

“There’s a lot that goes into it, and then you add the challenge of switching leagues for (Pujols). You have to learn a whole different group of pitchers. They’re probably pitching him different than he’s used to being pitched. But if there’s anyone who can figure it out, I’d put my money on him.”

During a five-game low-point earlier this week, Pujols faced nine pitchers, seven of whom he had never faced before, and went 0-for-20 before snapping out of it with a single Thursday in Tampa. For his part, he isn’t buying the fact he’s not accustomed to his new environment. He points out that when he broke in with St. Louis in 2001 he didn’t know the pitchers or the league and hit .329 with 37 home runs and 130 RBIs as a rookie.

“I don’t want to blame that,” he told reporters.

“I have been in this (slump) situation before. It’s part of the game.

“I’m going to have 550 more at-bats, 600 more plate appearances. Let’s see what’s going to happen.”

It is not at all helpful that the rest of the team has been in a funk through these early days, as well. Pujols was supposed to step in and level the playing field against the Texas Rangers in the AL West and now, just three weeks into the season, the Angels are nine full games back.

“Yeah, no doubt he feels it,” teammate Torii Hunter said. “It’s just everything — the expectations, the responsibility. He’s just gotta get comfortable.

“Once he hits that first one (home run) and everybody stops writing about it ... it’ll make him breathe.”

Crawford’s Tale Of Woe

Carl Crawford is disputing reports he is going to miss three more months because of a sprained ligament in his throwing elbow but, whatever the time frame, he’s not going to be back in the Red Sox lineup anytime soon.

Coming off a disappointing 2011 season, his first in Boston after signing a seven-year, $142 million deal, Crawford has been recovering from a wrist injury but the elbow flared up this week while he was DHing in the minors.

Crawford was seen by orthopaedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews this week and he underwent a Platelet Rich Plasma procedure. That’s the same procedure that Blue Jay Jesse Litsch had done in the spring. Unfortunately for Litsch he developed an infection as a result of the shot. Surgery has been ruled out for Crawford for the time being and the Red Sox hope the elbow will heal with time.

Short Hops

The Rays are close to signing veteran slugger Hideki Matsui to a minor-league deal. When signed, Matsui will go to Triple A as organizational depth. In 2011 with the Angels he hit 12 homers and had a career-low .375 slugging percentage ... Last Saturday in Phoenix three relief pitchers, two with the Atlanta Braves and one with the Arizona Diamondbacks, finished the game by striking out the last nine men to come to the plate. Johnny Venters fanned the three men he faced in the bottom of the eighth, David Hernandez blew away three Braves in the top of the ninth and Craig Kimbrel did the same to get the save in the bottom of the ninth, a feat never before accomplished in MLB history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau ... Brandon Inge, who parlayed a modest talent into a 12-year career with the Detroit Tigers by sheer force of will, was released Friday. Inge was batting .100 (2 for 20) with a home run and two RBIs this season. He played mostly third base for the Tigers, but has also caught, played the outfield and second base.

“He’s been a true soldier for a long time, even long before I was here,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “He’s been with me here six-plus years now and like I say, a true solider.” Inge will be paid the rest of his $5.5 million salary as well as a $500,000 buyout on a 2013 option.

 


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