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The Early Lead
Posted at 03:12 PM ET, 05/07/2012

Albert Pujols hits a home run; is his slump over?


Albert Pujols hits his first home run of the season. Yes, it’s May. (Jeff Gross / Getty Images)

Until Sunday, Albert Pujols had not hit a single home run since joining the Los Angeles Angels.

This most un-Pujols-like streak of his 12-year career came to an end Sunday after 33 games and 139 at-bats (dating to 2011), but just what does it mean for Pujols? Is it really over?

“Alberto is going to be okay. Alberto is going to be fine,” David Ortiz, the Boston Red Sox slugger who has had slow starts, told Fox News Latino. “Alberto was born to hit. A bad month in his career. Come on now. That's the worst month that he will have in his entire career.”

Tony La Russa, Pujols’ former manager with the St. Louis Cardinals, said Pujols was struggling because his family is in Missouri until the school year ends. “I don’t think he wants sympathy,” La Russa said (via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch). “I just have an understanding of what he’s going through.”


Albert Pujols finally hits a home run. (Jeff Gross / Getty Images)
It’s also easier, La Russa acknowledged, playing to get a big contract, like the 10-year, $240 million deal Pujols got from the Angels.

“Without a doubt the year after is much more distracting,” La Russa said. “The year before is survival. You have no guarantees. Then, all of a sudden it’s you against everyone else. Now you have responsibilities to everybody: an owner, new teammates, fans. It’s like a 180. One is much more normal. Survival is an instinct. Forcing something is different.”

Pujols, a three-time National League MVP, got his 446th home run in his 111th at-bat with the Angels, the day after Manager Mike Scioscia benched him. “I'm the same guy I've always been,” Pujols said (via USA Today). “It's not like I suddenly forgot how to hit. People want me to act differently, throwing my helmet or break my bats.

“It's not my helmet's fault. It's not my bat's fault. Why should I start acting different?”

Joe Posnanski agrees that Pujols was forcing things a bit but isn’t certain the slump is over.

The problem is Pujols has never, ever gone a month where he looked so hopeless at the plate. Forget the lack of homers. He’s had more than 100 plate appearances, and he’s hitting .196/.237/.295. He has not had more strikeouts than walks in a season since he was a rookie — this year he has 16 strikeouts and only six walks, two of those intentional. He’s swinging out of the zone more often and putting those balls in play more often — this tends to be a bad, bad combination. Pitchers are changing speeds fearlessly against him now and, until he starts crushing those pitches, they will keep on feeding him change ups and curveballs and sliders that break and move out of the zone. So far it doesn’t really matter because Pujols isn’t hitting the fastball yet, either.
Even Sunday, when Pujols hit the home run on an 84-mph slider that hung just a bit, he only went one for four, he struck out on an at-bat where he faced six fastballs and in his last at-bat, the one after the homer, he flew out to right on a fastball.
So, yes, the home run was nice. But I don’t see how anyone can say the slump is over and only good things are ahead. Maybe we should wait for a day when Pujols gets five at-bats, crushes three balls hard and walks twice.

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