Three-time NL MVP Pujols scuffling

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Albert Pujols has no RBIs in nine games and he's just a few more towering pop-ups or infield choppers from having his average drop below .300. No wonder the frustration is showing at times for a player who's always made production look easy.

May has not been a good month for the three-time NL MVP, who has one homer and 10 RBIs to go with a pedestrian .267 average.

On Friday, when Ryan Ludwick was caught stealing for the last out of the eighth inning with Pujols at the plate and the Cardinals ahead by four runs, Pujols slammed his bat to the turf. He carried a mini-tantrum to the dugout where he and manager Tony La Russa had a brief exchange.

"It's no big thing," La Russa said Monday. "I'm upset it got reported, because those things happen in the dugout once or twice a week."

Pujols admits he might be trying too hard to ignite an offense that's been spotty all season whether he's hitting ahead of or behind Matt Holliday, the other Cardinals' star who's had an even tougher time.

"I think it's fair. Myself and Matt, we're the big guys," Pujols said. "Sometimes when we're not producing runs or swinging the bat the way we want, we kind of want to carry the whole ballclub ourselves, and it can't happen that way."

The team is confident Pujols will work his way out of it. He always does. Pujols has a solid string of .300s with 100 RBIs and 30 homers since breaking into the majors in 2001.

"I think people get accustomed to seeing such a high level of performance that whenever there's a little dip, people start to panic," general manager John Mozeliak said. "I'm not one of them. I think he'll be fine."

Pujols is in the final year of a seven-year, $100 million contract with St. Louis. The Cardinals have a $16 million option for next season.

At the moment, the Cardinals need Pujols more than ever, given they're likely to be without two starting pitchers for a while. Brad Penny (upper back) went on the 15-day disabled list Saturday and Kyle Lohse (forearm) was expected to join him after medical tests Monday.

Yet the Cardinals just finished a 5-2 homestand and are back in first place in the NL Central.

"As a team you can't be down on yourself and you can't beat yourself up," Pujols said. "That's the reality."

Pujols has become such a given that La Russa moved him from third to cleanup the first five games of the homestand in an effort to get Holliday rolling. Instead, neither player was much of a factor.

Holliday, who homered Saturday for the first time since April 19, is tied for fifth on the team with 18 RBIs.

Pujols was 0 for 10 with two walks in a three-game interleague series against the Angels, and committed his first two errors of the season at first base. His contribution was in a supporting role, pulling off a double steal with Colby Rasmus to set up David Freese's game-tying, two-run single in the eighth.

Pujols' walks to strikeouts ratio is usually around 2-1, but not this year so far with 31 walks and 24 strikeouts, although he's adamant he hasn't expanded his strike zone. Instead, he believes it's because at times he hasn't seen the ball as well as in the past.

"I guess because I'm not hitting .350, that's why you ask that question," he said to a reporter. "I don't think it's fair to say I'm struggling when a guy's hitting over .300.

"Obviously, I spoil you guys too much hitting .350 every month and hitting a bunch of home runs with a bunch of RBIs. Obviously it's not where you want it 100 percent, but when you do feel 100 percent in this game ever?"

Nor does he worry about a power stroke that abandoned him late last season when he ended with a career-worst 89 at-bat slump without a homer.

"I'm not concerned about anything, man," Pujols said. "Home runs are pretty streaky. You hit one and you can go on a tear and hit 20 in less than two or three months.

"I'll let you know in September, I'll bet you my numbers are going to be there."

Pujols went back to his usual third spot on Saturday, not that he appeared to care.

"I believe it's not about what's good for Matt or good for myself, it's what's good for our ballclub to get something going," he said. "Listen, you can put me first, you can put me third, fourth, fifth, whatever you want."