Pujols content to let Hamilton take spotlight

TEMPE, Ariz. — Josh Hamilton, the Angels’ new right fielder, spent half an hour in a Tempe Diablo Stadium batting cage Wednesday, answering questions from a television reporter and taking cuts for a special camera.

Albert Pujols stopped by the dugout for a quick five-minute interview, grabbed his bats and glove and retreated to a back field for batting practice.

“I told Josh, ‘The camera is all on you,'” Pujols said, his chuckle indicating levity but his statement ringing true.

Pujols was the center of media and fan attention — and the Angels’ marketing efforts — last spring after signing a 10-year, $240-million deal. And that spotlight intensified in April when the first baseman got off to a horrendous start, batting .194 with no homers and five runs batted in through 27 games.

The former St. Louis Cardinals slugger rebounded to finish with a .285 average, 30 homers, 50 doubles and 105 RBIs, but as he begins his second camp with the Angels, Pujols may have lost his North Star status in the team’s constellation. Not that he seems to mind.

Hamilton signed a five-year, $125-million deal with the Angels in December, and now the five-time All-Star and 2010 American League most valuable player is as much a focal point as Pujols.

Mike Trout, after a rookie season in which he hit .326 with 30 homers, 83 RBIs, 129 runs, 49 stolen bases and placed second in MVP voting, will also deflect plenty of attention away from Pujols. The team will hold a news conference for all three players on Thursday.

“The focus should be on the club, not just one player,” Pujols said. “When you start thinking the focus is on you, you can lose your concentration a bit.”

Pujols fielded a flurry of media requests last spring but hit .383 with four homers and 15 RBIs in 23 exhibition games, so he did not appear distracted. The pressure that helped fuel his April slump, he said, came from the inside, not the outside.

“I’ll try not to do too much this April, which is what everybody was doing last year,” Pujols said of a 6-14 start that helped torpedo the team’s playoff chances. “Sometimes that happens. You try to do whatever it takes to help the team win, and you can press a little too much.

“Nothing distracted me last season. I had a great spring, a terrible April, and a great rest of the season. That’s how it is. Sometimes you go through struggles and you learn from them.”

Trout, who will bat leadoff, Pujols, who will hit third, and Hamilton, who will bat cleanup, form the nucleus of a lineup that should be among the best in baseball, so no matter how the spotlight is spread among the three, there will be considerable pressure to perform.

“There are a lot of expectations, which is good, but you still have to go out there and play the game the right way, do whatever it takes to win the championship,” said Pujols, who underwent minor surgery to clean out his right knee last October. “That’s our main goal. We have the talent. We have the ability.”

-Mike DiGiovanna