A lackluster start from one high-priced slugger in 2012 hardly helped the Los Angeles Angels' chances for an AL West title. The Angels are now hoping they don't have two slumping high-profile players.
While Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton try to get on track, Joe Blanton will look to get off to a winning start with his new club when he faces the Cincinnati Reds in Thursday's series finale at Great American Ball Park.
After signing a 10-year, $240 million deal in January 2012, Pujols batted .190 in his first 30 games last season and didn't hit a home run until May 6, but he finished with a .285 average, 30 homers and 105 RBIs.
With Pujols slumping, the Angels started 6-14 en route to finishing five games back of division-winning Oakland and four behind wild cards Tampa Bay and Texas.
Pujols is 0 for 7 in the first two games this season and Hamilton, signed to a five-year, $125 million contract in December, is 0 for 8 with three strikeouts. Fifth hitter Mark Trumbo has four strikeouts in nine at-bats, but manager Mike Scioscia expressed confidence in all three after a 5-4 loss to Cincinnati (1-1) on Wednesday.
"Those guys are going to hit in the middle," Scioscia said. "We just have to keep constant on the defensive side and we're going to be fine."
Los Angeles (1-1) could have used some help from its sluggers after rallying from a four-run deficit Wednesday only to fall short. The Reds' Joey Votto singled in the winning run in the ninth off Pujols' glove.
"This team never gives up. Everybody picks each other up. We stayed in the game and got it done," second baseman Brandon Phillips said.
Blanton, who signed a two-year deal with the Angels in December, will try to help Los Angeles bounce back by improving to 3-0 in six career starts against the Reds. The right-hander allowed one run and four hits over 5 2-3 innings in the most recent matchup Sept. 21 in Cincinnati while with the Dodgers.
Blanton will pitch opposite Bronson Arroyo, who is coming off a solid 2012 in which he went 12-10 with a 3.74 ERA that was his lowest since posting a 3.29 in 2006 - his first season in Cincinnati.
Arroyo was 8-1 with a 3.03 ERA from July 21-Sept. 8 before losing his final three decisions. He hasn't started against the Angels since 2007, but is 0-3 with a 7.33 ERA in his last four interleague outings.
He'll try to get some help in this start from Brandon Phillips, who hit a three-run homer while batting cleanup Wednesday. The second baseman could stay in the No. 4 spot in the lineup with Ryan Ludwick expected to miss at least three months after injuring his shoulder in Monday's opener.
Phillips is batting .344 with seven homers and 25 RBIs in his last 29 interleague games but is 4 for 17 all-time against Blanton.
Pujols is a career .274 hitter (20 for 73) with four homers and six doubles versus Arroyo, while Hamilton has never faced the right-hander.