Los Angeles, Calif. — Monday’s game in Phoenix
was little more than the first of many dress rehearsals for new Angels first
baseman Albert Pujols. But oh, what a sight he was.
If you thought it might
take a while for Pujols to adjust to his new surroundings, to an opponent he
hadn’t seen before, to his new teammates, well, you were wrong. Pujols was
right at home.
In his unofficial
official first game with the Angels, Pujols batted third and was 2 for 3
against the Oakland A’s at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Not a bad debut.
Pujols drove a breaking
ball into the left-field corner off A’s starter Brad Peacock in the first
inning, driving in a run with a double. In the second inning, after Howie
Kendricks’ two-run homer to center, Pujols singled to left. He later flied out to
right against A’s reliever Fautino De Los Santos.
You can’t draw too many
conclusions on spring training — and certainly not the first exhibition game of
the spring — but Pujols is worth watching simply because of who he is. Some
players switch leagues and struggle. Adjusting from the National League, where
pitchers tend to rely on fastballs early in the count, to the American League,
where pitchers won’t hesitate to throw breaking balls early, can be difficult.
Pujols is such a smart,
savvy hitter, he makes no distinction. He adjusts quickly. In this case, he
already knew what to look for from Peacock.
Many players who sign
massive free-agent contracts buckle under the pressure of their new money.
Pujols isn’t likely to do that. He has a 10-year, $240-million deal, but based on
reports out of Arizona, he is preparing in the same manner he did during his
years with the St. Louis Cardinals. He is so focused and so hard-working, his
example is something his new Angels teammates will admire and emulate.
OK, it’s only one game,
and a meaningless one at that. But Pujols bears watching as March stretches
into April and then into the long, hot summer.
He’s going to hit;
that’s a given. But will he make everyone else in the lineup better? That’s a
story that will develop over time.