Trout slides back to three-hole, Pujols cleanup
ANAHEIM -- Seeking continuity from his offense and looking to maximize opportunities for his two best hitters, Angels manager Mike Scioscia made a significant, highly anticipated change to his lineup Tuesday, batting Mike Trout in the prominent No. 3 spot and making Albert Pujols his new cleanup hitter in a 4-1 win vs. the D-backs.
Scioscia hopes "this is a lineup we can ride out for a long time."
In his mind, it became a necessity.
"We've got five holes in our wall and enough spackle for three holes," said Scioscia. "Which ones do you want to fill? Right now, we want to go solid one through five and look at it that way."
Translation: The Angels' offense hasn't proven to be very deep this year, so Scioscia would prefer to bunch all of his best hitters up top.
That involved keeping Erick Aybar at leadoff and moving Kole Calhoun to the No. 2 spot to bat him directly in front of Trout and Pujols, as was the case when Calhoun batted leadoff all of last season.
The Angels rank 23rd in the Majors in runs per game, while Trout and Pujols have now combined for 37 homers on the year -- one more than the entire Phillies' roster.
Pujols had started in the cleanup spot just five times since 2003 and not once since signing a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Angels. Trout batted leadoff as a rookie in 2012, moved into the No. 2 spot a couple weeks into the 2013 season and batted third only on days when Pujols wasn't in the lineup, which was especially the case when Pujols missed the last two months of 2013 because of a partial tear of his left plantar fascia.
Trout has a .323/.473/.511 slash line in 245 career plate appearances as a No. 3 hitter.
"I'm not going to change my approach," said Trout, who entered Tuesday batting .297/.381/.577 for the season. "You can't change your approach. That's when you get in trouble."
Since 1914, Pujols -- riding a hot stretch that has his slash line up to .272/.323/.540 -- ranks eighth in starts in the No. 3 spot with 1,851. The 35-year-old first baseman didn't want to talk about the subject when approached by the media on Tuesday afternoon, but indications are that he really likes the move.
There's a delicate balance here, a tradeoff between potentially giving Trout and Pujols more opportunities with runners in scoring position while ensuring that they will come up to bat less frequently over the course of the season.
"That was weighed very heavily," Scioscia said, "but the bottom line is everybody in the room when we were talking about it was unanimous about the need to try to readjust some things."
There was a 16-plate-appearance gap between the Nos. 2-4 hitters in the AL last year, which would add up to about 10 fewer plate appearances for both Trout and Pujols this season. Scioscia hopes Aybar and Calhoun can help make up for that by giving Trout and Pujols more opportunities to drive in runs.
Aybar's slash line is down to .255/.301/.301 after a recent 0-for-19 slump, while Calhoun -- the cleanup hitter for the better part of the last month -- entered Tuesday batting .273/.328/.398.
"Right now, we all feel that we need to try something that's going to get a little more action, especially early in games," Scioscia said. "It's not just the first inning. But if we get a little action and move the lineup, these guys are coming back up in the third inning and in the fifth inning, the same group. If you just do a statistical analysis of it, the chances of these guys hitting with a couple of guys on base is very real within the first five or six innings, either Mike or Albert, if this works out. We'll see."