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Pujols, Angels maintain struggles with RISP

KANSAS CITY -- Even amid victory late Thursday night, with the glow of an uplifting comeback still very raw, Angels manager Mike Scioscia sensed troubling signs from his reeling ballclub. They were still having a hard time scoring early, still getting dominated by opposing starters they should hit, and Scioscia stressed the importance of scoring early runs to relieve some of the pressure.

Friday night's 4-1 loss to the Royals didn't make him feel any better.

The Angels did plate a first-inning run -- on a leadoff triple by Shane Victorino and an RBI double by Mike Trout -- but they got nothing else in the series rematch at Kauffman Stadium, their 15th defeat over the last 21 games.

Video: [email protected]: Victorino leads off game with three-bagger

The five starters the Angels have faced in what is still a one-win road trip have now combined to give up five runs in 33 2/3 innings. Chris Sale pitched 7 1/3 innings of two-run ball on Monday, Carlos Rondon twirled seven shutout frames on Tuesday, John Danks held the Angels to one run in 7 1/3 innings on Wednesday, and Jeremy Guthrie and Danny Duffy each notched six innings of one-run ball in the first two of this four-game set.

The struggles go back even further.

Over the Angels' last 16 games, 13 starting pitchers have thrown at least six innings while giving up two runs or fewer. Five of them -- Scott Kazmir, Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Carrasco, Ubaldo Jimenez and Rondon -- have allowed nothing.

"Some of it is cyclical, some of it is just some guys are just not as comfortable in the box," said Scioscia, whose club faces an even tougher test with Royals' ace Johnny Cueto on Saturday. "A month ago, during that streak, we were pounding the ball."

"That streak" spanned from June 27 to July 22, a 20-game stretch that saw the Angels win 17 games and average 5.65 runs, second most in the Major Leagues. Everybody was swinging it then, including Albert Pujols.

Times have changed.

When the Angels finally generated something on Friday night, it was the seventh inning. The bases were loaded with two out, but Pujols got jammed on a 98-mph, inside-corner fastball from Ryan Madson and grounded out weakly to the left side.

The Angels finished 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and are 6-for-53 in that situation on this road trip, with three of those hits coming against Greg Holland in a furious ninth-inning rally on Thursday night. Pujols, batting an unfathomable .206 with runners in scoring position this season, is in the middle of it all.

"That's my job, and I'm not doing it," Pujols said. "I'm getting my pitch to hit and I'm missing my pitch. There's nothing I can do; just keep fighting, keep battling. It is frustrating, but this game gives and takes away. Right now, it's taking away."

Pujols went on a monster tear from late May to late July, batting .284, belting 21 home runs and striking out only 15 times in 45 games. The 35-year-old first baseman has slowed down lately, though, batting .203 and going homerless over his last 14 games. Some have noticed him trying to guess on pitches, frequently getting out in front and not producing much carry on the ball, an indication that his lower half may not be healthy.

Pujols refutes that.

"That's the thing," he said. "I feel really good. You know me, man, I don't make excuses. Even if I don't feel good with my body, if I'm playing, I'm feeling good. It's one of those things. All you can do is come here, get yourself ready, do the same routine you do every day, and hopefully you find yourself back on. But I feel good. I really feel good. I'm not going to look for any excuses."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and listen to his podcast.
Read More: Los Angeles Angels, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout