Published May 05, 2012
ANAHEIM, Calif. – Toronto slugger Jose Bautista has only five home runs in 96 at-bats through his first 27 games. Albert Pujols is probably green with envy.
Pujols' career-worst home run drought reached 33 games and 137 at-bats after he went 0 for 4 in the Los Angeles Angels' 4-0 loss to the Blue Jays on Friday night. His batting average dropped to .194 — a stunning start for the three-time NL MVP, who signed a 10-year, $240 million contract in December as a free agent. He has just five RBIs in 108 at-bats this season.
"I'm fine. I mean, this is baseball. It's a long year," Pujols said. "I've been in this situation before, so I need to have faith and stay strong, knowing this bad time will pass. If it's meant to be like this the whole year, I'll deal with it. But I'm a great hitter and I know I can hit."
Henderson Alvarez (2-2) pitched a six-hitter for his first complete game in 16 career starts, throwing just 97 pitches. The 22-year-old right-hander, whose only other appearance at Angel Stadium was in the 2010 All-Star Futures Game, has won back-to-back starts for Toronto after going winless in his previous nine.
Pujols' longest home run drought prior to this was in 2011, when he came up empty in 27 straight games and 105 at-bats. Previously, his longest drought at the start of a season was in 2008, when he failed to homer in his first eight games and 27 at-bats. He ended that season with 37.
The 32-year-old first baseman averaged 40.5 home runs during his 11 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals — including a career-best 49 in 2006 — and is the only player in major league history to hit 30 or more homers in each of his first 11 big league campaigns.
"I've been making some adjustments, and before you know it, I'll be swinging the bat the way I know how to swing the bat," said Pujols, who last October joined Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only players to hit three home runs in a World Series game.
"I can't get myself down, because that's not who I am. I'm a leader in this clubhouse, just like I was in St. Louis. And when you're struggling around this time of the year, this is when the ballclub really needs their leader to step up. Just because I'm struggling the way I am, it's nobody's fault. I just need to stick with the same attitude."
Bautista, who outhomered Pujols 97-79 over the previous two seasons, hit a two-run shot against Ervin Santana in the third inning to help send the beleaguered right-hander to his sixth loss in as many starts this season. And as one home run champ to another, Bautista offered some encouraging words for Pujols.
"He's going to be fine," Bautista said. "He's one of the best hitters of this generation, so I'm not too worried about him. He's going to pick it up at some point, and at the end of the year, his numbers are going to be just fine. When you're not doing your job the way you're capable of doing it, it is going to affect you if you care about what you're doing."
Santana (0-6) allowed three runs and three hits over eight innings with 10 strikeouts, the eighth double-digit strikeout game of his career. But the Angels have been shut out in each of his last five outings.
Toronto grabbed a 3-0 lead in the third on Yunel Escobar's two-out RBI single and Bautista's homer to left-center on the next pitch. Those were the Blue Jays' only hits until Escobar's two-out double in the eighth.
"He's our 3-hole hitter. He's had some inconsistencies, timing-wise, but it hasn't been from a lack of work or effort," Toronto manager John Farrell said of Bautista. "He's been frustrated at times, but he's certainly going to be in the middle of our order. I'd hate to think where we'd be without him over the past two-plus years. He's working through some things, and there's been some times where he's shown some signs of coming out of it."
It was the first time in six outings this season that Alvarez did not allow a home run, and batterymate Jeff Mathis had something to do with that. Mathis spent his first seven big league seasons with the Angels before he was traded to Toronto in December.
"I've been with those guys a long time, so I've got a decent feel for them," Mathis said. "But Henderson did a good job executing the plan that we talked about and we were pretty much on the same page. He threw the ball well and mixed his changeup and his slider when he needed to. His sinker was good — he got a lot of early-count groundballs, and that's what kept his pitch count down."
After three consecutive nights of complete-game shutouts at Angel Stadium — a three-hitter by Angels righty Jerome Williams, a no-hitter by teammate Jered Weaver and a series-opening three-hitter by Toronto's Brandon Morrow — Alvarez kept the string alive as he lowered his ERA from 3.62 to 2.83.
NOTES: All five games on this Angels homestand have been completed in less than 2½ hours, including one that took 2:11 and two that lasted 2:10. ... The Angels optioned RHP Kevin Jepsen to Triple-A Salt Lake to clear a roster spot for RHP Ernesto Frieri, acquired Thursday in a trade with San Diego.