Pujols heating up . . . unfortunately for Yankees
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- When the Yankees last saw Albert Pujols, the first baseman was in the early stages of a horrific slump to start the season and his Angels career.
That was April 13-15 at the Stadium. Pujols, who entered that series homerless, left it the same way (he did have four hits and two RBIs in the three games).
A remarkable homerless streak for perhaps the game's pre-eminent slugger didn't end until May 6, in his 111th at-bat, but even that didn't engender a breakout. Pujols' average was as low as .190 on May 8 and still was only .197 on May 14.
But few in baseball thought such a prolonged drought would persist. After all, in his 11 seasons with the Cardinals, Pujols averaged 40 homers and 121 RBIs, batting .328 with a .420 on-base percentage and .617 slugging percentage. As Mark Teixeira put it, "Anyone who thought Albert Pujols was going to stay down for long is crazy."
Sure enough, Pujols, who signed a 10-year, $240-million contract with the Angels in the offseason, has been showing signs of a hitter getting it going.
Entering Monday night's game against the Yankees, he still had unimpressive overall numbers (.227/.271/.387 with seven homers and 26 RBIs), but in his previous 13 games, Pujols was hitting .308/.362/.692. He had six homers in his previous 12 games after hitting one in his first 36 and had 21 RBIs in his previous 21 games.
He smashed a single past Alex Rodriguez in his first at-bat, hitting it so hard that A-Rod barely had time to move, and singled again in the second inning.
"It's surprising any time you see someone of that caliber go through something like that," Joe Girardi said. "You could think about it and say, well, he's changing leagues and there's huge expectations, a different environment, a lot of different things, and maybe that had something to do with it. But you knew eventually it was going to end, and it seems it has ended and unfortunately, because we're here."
Andy Pettitte, who starts Tuesday night, has more history against Pujols than other Yankees starters, having pitched in the National League with the Astros from 2004-06 (Hiroki Kuroda, who pitched for the Dodgers for four years, has the second-most experience). Pujols is 5-for-23 (.217) against Pettitte with no extra-base hits, two RBIs and a .280 on-base percentage.
"He's just a great hitter," Pettitte said. "He's a guy that's going to hurt you if you make a mistake. Whether he's slumping or not, I would treat him the same way. You just know he's a great hitter and you try to make pitches to him. Try not to let him hurt you too much. A good pitch is a good pitch, and hopefully, it's good enough to get him out if he's up there in a big spot."
As is the case with most top-flight hitters, when Pujols is on, it seems no pitch is good enough, Girardi said.
"There's really not a pitch that he can't hit," he said. "And he's patient and he waits for you to make a mistake and he puts a good swing on it. He doesn't strike out a lot. He's just really hard to get out."
And as the numbers indicate, Pujols looks like a different hitter than he did in mid-April.
"We were careful, but he wasn't swinging the bat great," Girardi said. "He was swinging through more pitches than I've ever seen, but he's not doing that now. So I think you have to be more careful."
Like Girardi, Pettitte joked that Pujols appears to have figured things out just in time for the Yankees' arrival.
"Yeah, that's really good," Pettitte said with a smile. "He's starting to swing the bat. Hopefully, we can get him cold for a few days. That would be really nice."