Banged-up Pujols still searching for power

Banged-up Pujols still searching for power

HOUSTON -- Albert Pujols arrived at Minute Maid Park on Monday with a balky left hamstring. He injured it in Sunday's top of the first in Oakland, while beating out a potential inning-ending double play to score the game's first run, and never came out because the score remained close.

His left ankle, the one he rolled while stretching to catch the double play that sealed a one-run victory in the series finale from Pittsburgh three weeks earlier, still aches.

"That's what happens when you get old," Pujols said, bellowing in laughter hours before his Angels opened up a three-game series against the division-rival Astros.

"It seems like every time I'm feeling good, something creeps up."

Pujols is hoping the issues will resolve themselves, but he's still waiting for the power to emerge.

He's managed 12 homers and has knocked in 44 runs, but his slugging percentage through the first 11 weeks of this 2016 season ranked 135th out of the 170 qualified Major League hitters. The 36-year-old is slashing .233/.310/.393, producing a .703 OPS that is tied for fifth on his own team with Johnny Giavotella, the diminutive second baseman who struggles to generate power.

"I'm hitting the ball hard," Pujols said. "I've got 12 homers. It's not like I don't have any. I'm producing. [Forty-four] RBIs, so I can't complain, you know? You know how it is with the homers, dude. When they come, they come in bunches. Last year I hit [15] in [24] games. It's one of those things. I just want to have good, quality at-bats. I don't go out there and try to look for homers. I just try to get good swings and hopefully get good results."

Pujols' walk rate (9.9 percent) is on track to be his best since 2010. His strikeout rate (12.2 percent) is the highest since his rookie season in 2001, but still much better than the Major League average of 21.1.

But 21.1 is also the percentage of times Pujols has hit the ball softly this year, according to Baseball Info Solutions, which uses a personalized algorithm to classify balls in play as "soft," "medium" and "hard."

It stands as Pujols' highest rate since the stat became available in 2002, well above his career rate of 14.4 percent. It's a major reason -- along with the achy lower half that saps his speed -- that he has grounded into 12 double plays, tied for the Major League lead.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia said giving Pujols some time off to get healthier has "definitely been discussed," but it has yet to occur. There have been times when a date has been mapped out, then Pujols will go through pregame work and declare himself fit to play.

Going on the disabled list, and benefitting from a couple of weeks off, is basically out of the question.

"Not if I don't need to," Pujols said. "You really have to need it. I mean, anybody here can benefit from a two-week break. But if you don't need it, why would you take a two-week break? I don't think that's fair to the team."

So Pujols marches on.

The right foot, the one that was surgically repaired in November, "feels great," he said. But sometimes the left ankle will ache so bad that he can't even put weight on it, and now the left hamstring is an issue. He plans to play through it, all while trying desperately to produce more power from the Angels' cleanup spot.

"When it comes, it comes in bunches," Pujols said. "That's what this game teaches you -- that it's streaky. It's really streaky."

Alden Gonzalez has covered the Angels for 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.