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.
|Los Angeles Angels|
|March 22, 2013||Andrew Taylor||15-Day DL||Left labrum tear|
|March 22, 2013||Ryan Madson||15-Day DL||Recovery from right elbow surgery|
|April 02, 2013||Ryan Ludwick||Day-to-Day||Torn cartilage in right shoulder|
|April 02, 2013||Ryan Ludwick||15-Day DL||Torn cartilage in right shoulder|
|March 22, 2013||Nick Masset||15-Day DL||Recovery from right shoulder surgery|
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Joey Votto ? One single in 10 at-bats. Jay Bruce ? One double in 13 at-bats with seven strikeouts.
Cincinnati's top run producers barely got the bat on the ball, yet the Reds managed to win the major leagues' first interleague series to open a season. Credit those other guys who don't normally do the heavy lifting.
Shin-Soo Choo homered on Joe Blanton 's first pitch of the game Thursday, the first of Cincinnati's three homers off the right-hander, and the Reds won 5-4 over the Los Angeles Angels .
Not too bad considering the big hitters' struggles.
"It means somebody else picked us up," manager Dusty Baker said. "We had excellent pitching. Some of their players didn't get uncaged, either. That was an exciting series. Every game was a great game that could have gone either way."
Todd Frazier also had a solo homer off Blanton (0-1), and Chris Heisey 's two-run shot put Cincinnati up 5-3 in the fifth. Blanton gave up five runs and seven hits in five innings during his Angels debut.
Blanton, who signed a two-year, $15 million deal in December, didn't make many bad pitches. He didn't have much luck, either.
"Two of them were off mistakes, and I felt I made maybe a handful of them all day," Blanton said. "That happens sometimes in baseball. One of those things that just happened out of the gate."
Heisey's homer was his first as the full-time left fielder. He's replacing Ryan Ludwick , who had surgery on Wednesday to repair torn cartilage in his right shoulder, an injury that will sideline him for at least the first half of the season.
"I've proven I can play off the bench," Heisey said. "I'm not feeling any pressure."
Bronson Arroyo (1-0) gave up three runs in six innings, including Josh Hamilton 's two-run single that was his first hit for the Angels. Albert Pujols drove in a pair of runs with a sacrifice fly and a groundout.
Nobody enjoyed Choo's homer more than Arroyo. Choo has four career homers off Arroyo, his highest total off any pitcher. The Reds got him from Cleveland in the offseason.
"Every time he goes deep for me, it's like a holiday," Arroyo said.
Left-hander Aroldis Chapman pitched the ninth, converting his first save opportunity. Mike Trout led off with a single and was sacrificed to second, but Pujols flied out and Hamilton struck out.
The teams combined for seven homers and 63 strikeouts during the series. The Reds fanned 36 overall, a club record for the first three games of a season. The 36 strikeouts were an Angels record for a three-game series.
Their biggest hitters also have had a tough time getting started.
Pujols and Hamilton were a combined 0 for 17 with six strikeouts before they finally put something together in the third inning. Pujols doubled for his first hit, and Hamilton followed with a two-run single; Pujols slid into home safely while catcher Ryan Hanigan missed his leg while attempting the tag.
Pujols also had a sacrifice fly and a run-scoring groundout, limping on his left foot after he'd run. Pujols is playing through pain from plantar fasciitis.
Choo got the Reds started with his sixth career leadoff homer. Frazier led off the second inning with a homer just inside the left field foul pole, and Heisey connected in the fifth.
The game featured the first replay of the season at Great American Ball Park. Frazier's fly ball went off the yellow padding atop the wall in the fourth, and he continued to third when Trout bobbled the carom for an error. The umpires checked to make sure the ball didn't clear the wall. Frazier scored on Hanigan's sacrifice fly - Cincinnati's only run that didn't come off a homer.
Baker got through the series without using left-handed setup man Sean Marshall , who's had some tiredness in the front of his pitching shoulder the last couple of weeks. Marshall said Thursday he felt much better and should be available for the opener of a series against Washington on Friday.
NOTES: The Angels head to Texas to play Hamilton's former team in a weekend series. The Reds host the Nationals in a matchup of the NL's top two teams last year: Washington won 98 games, Cincinnati 97. ... Angels manager Mike Scioscia might use Pujols as the DH over the weekend to rest his sore left foot. "He's fine. If he's struggling with something, I'll consider giving him a day. I can look to DH him this weekend," Scioscia said.
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