Pujols opens up about struggles

Pujols opens up about struggles

ANAHEIM -- Albert Pujols looked poised for a breakout season, then the Angels got into the month of May, and now the nine-time All-Star first baseman is fighting himself all over again. Pujols entered Tuesday's contest against the A's batting .183 in his previous 30 games and sporting an overall .245/.303/.482 slash line that's hard for him to even look at.

"It just [stinks]," Pujols said, "because I had a great April, I had a great start to May, and all of a sudden, it seems like after that Toronto trip, that's when everything went downhill for me."

Pujols was batting .293 when the Angels entered a four-game series on the hard turf at Rogers Centre on May 9, and he left it complaining of lingering soreness in his lower half. Those issues subsided a while ago, Pujols said, but that series is the only reasonable explanation the 34-year-old can come up with for why he's struggling so much again.

"It's tough, man," Pujols said. "I'm going through a little bit of a tough period. But I'm glad it's happening now rather than later."

Most disturbing of all are Pujols' uncommon struggles with runners in scoring position. He entered the 2014 season batting an ungodly .334/.468/.632 in that situation. This year, he's slashing .149/.275/.257 with runners in scoring position, while leading the Majors with 91 plate appearances in those situations.

"Shoot, if I would've had one of those great couple of months, I probably would've had 80 RBIs right now," said Pujols, who instead has 35 RBIs to go along with 15 home runs. "It's frustrating."

But Angels manager Mike Scioscia continues to bat Pujols third, right behind Mike Trout and right in front of Josh Hamilton, because, as he said, "Albert's presence is huge in the middle of our lineup."

Scioscia referenced the amount of opportunities several other hitters are getting with runners in scoring position and said, "The way we line up right now is really going to be our best look. We want this to continue to evolve, and Albert will find it. We know that."

Pujols takes solace in the fact that his work ethic is as strong as it's ever been, and his approach at the plate is sound, particularly with regards to the balls he's been driving to the opposite field recently. He credited his faith and the experiences he went through at the start of 2012 -- being in a new city and retreating to a 700-square-foot apartment by himself, while dealing with the most catastrophic slump of his career -- for keeping him strong mentally in the face of all this.

"That taught me a lot of things," Pujols said of his first season with the Angels. "It was crazy. I don't even want to think about it. There were times when I would go home by myself and think, 'Should I just pack my suitcase and go home?'"

Pujols missed his family, which was still in St. Louis, and had no idea who he was anymore, but overcame it all and went on a 4 1/2-month tear that put his numbers right in line with the best first basemen in the game.

He's confident it'll happen for him again.

"It won't be like this all year -- trust me," Pujols said.

"Hitters like Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, myself -- not getting cocky, but we only need three months in the season to get our numbers."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read 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.