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Struggling Pujols sits for first time for Angels

Struggling Pujols sits for first time for Angels

Struggling Pujols sits for first time for Angels
ANAHEIM - On Friday, Albert Pujols' early season slump seemingly hit bottom.

On Saturday, he was out of manager Mike Scioscia's lineup for the first time.

"Ask the manager," Pujols simply said when asked about the decision.

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The manager explained his decision this way: "Just a little breather. Sometimes you're grinding, and there's nobody that grinds harder than Albert. Just giving him a refresh day. Don't pick up a bat, just get ready to get back here tomorrow."

Pujols went 0-for-4 in a 4-0 loss to the Blue Jays on Friday night, putting his batting average below .200, setting a new career-high for at-bats without a home run and getting booed by the home fans in the process.

"If I could boo myself," Pujols said postgame, "I'd boo myself, too."

On Saturday, Pujols took part in a hitters meeting, but didn't come out for batting practice.

Pujols is batting .194 (the latest in a season he's been below the Mendoza Line), hasn't homered in 108 at-bats (topping his previous single-season career-high of 105, set last season), hasn't had a multihit game since April 19, has driven in one run since April 15 and has walked six times in 114 plate appearances all year.

"It's good that he has a day off," said right fielder Torii Hunter, who took Pujols' place in the No. 3 spot, with Mark Trumbo playing first base against Blue Jays righty Kyle Drabek. "I mean, he knows it. I know he doesn't want to be out of the lineup -- he's a competitor, he's a winner. But sometimes you just need to take a breather, take a step back, try to observe and watch and see what's going on. It might be something that he sees in somebody else's swing and it clicks. He doesn't need to pick up a bat. Just observe. That's it."

Pujols had the worst year of a superb career last season, but was as good as any player in baseball through the regular-season's last four months and into the playoffs, and surged through Spring Training with the Angels.

In trying to put logic behind Pujols' mystifying early season struggles, some have pointed to approach (swinging at too many pitches out of the zone, seeing too many first-pitch strikes), some have pointed to the setting (seeing many pitchers for the first time, getting used to the marine layer at Angel Stadium) and some have tossed out wacky theories (his family isn't with him in California yet, he loses the ball in the left-center field rocks at his new home ballpark).

But maybe he just needs to clear his head.

That's the Angels' hope.

"Ninety-five percent of what he has going on, it's mental," Hunter said. "It has nothing to do with his physical abilities. It's mental. So sometimes you need a mental break. And that's what he's going to do -- get a chance to clear his head, relax, crack a joke or two on the bench, laugh, smile. It's going to be a lot of fun."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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