Pujols a sounding board for struggling Aybar

Pujols a sounding board for struggling Aybar

ANAHEIM -- Longtime Angels shortstop Erick Aybar, who went to the Braves in the prospect-laden deal that brought Andrelton Simmons to Southern California, has had a rough go of it in Atlanta.

When Monday began, he sported the worst OPS in the Major Leagues and had been considered the worst shortstop, per FanGraphs ratings. He found himself on the bench on Sunday and Monday, with Braves fans everywhere calling for him to be displaced as an everyday player.

Aybar played for the Angels from 2006-2015.

Just before the Braves went through pregame stretch, Albert Pujols did some FaceTime with Aybar, who remains one of his best friends.

"He's been very positive," Pujols said in Spanish. "That's how he is. He's going to be just fine. You just have to let him play. It's just like when I came over from the American League; he's trying to get accustomed to the National League, getting to know the pitchers. People don't think that matters. It does. You have to get accustomed to the pitchers, see how they pitch you. That takes time, man."

Pujols, who spent his first 11 years with the Cardinals in the NL, struggled mightily early in his first year with the Angels in 2012, finishing the month of April with a .217 batting average and not hitting his first home run until his team's 29th game.

Aybar is batting .134, drawing only a couple of walks, striking out 13 times and sporting a minus-3.4 Ultimate Zone Rating. A recent article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution called the Aybar acquisition "an unmitigated disaster" and said, "It's not an exaggeration to say Aybar has been arguably the worst position player in all of baseball."

"He's going to be fine," Pujols said. "But they have to play him. If they don't play him, that's when he's going to get frustrated. He's not somebody who's used to being on the bench."

The Braves traded Simmons mainly to acquire the Angels' two young starting pitchers, Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis. But Aybar was expected to be a stabilizing force for their lineup, one who would hold down the position until their two promising prospects, Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies, were ready.

Pujols and Aybar were practically inseparable in Anaheim over the last four years and still talk two to three times a week. By the end of the year, Pujols -- undergoing his own struggles to begin the season -- believes Aybar's numbers will be in line with his career norms.

But only if he keeps getting an opportunity.

"If he's not playing," Pujols said, "bring him over here."

Alden Gonzalez has covered the Angels for MLB.com since 2012. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and Facebook , and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.