ADRENALINE SHOT: PUJOLS, WILSON OFF AND RUNNING
Slugger hits RBI double in first at-bat; starter zips through two
TEMPE, Ariz. -- So what if it's only Spring Training. Or that barely 3,500 fans were in attendance. Or that wins, losses and stats mean nothing at this point. It's still a Major League game. And for C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols, it was their first in an Angels uniform.
So, yeah, when the two of them walked out to left field to warm up for the Cactus League opener against the Athletics on Monday, there were some nerves.
So what if they've played in World Series games, are at the top of their games and have combined for 18 years in the big leagues?
"If I'm getting on a mound, putting the uniform on," Wilson added, "I'm going to get some adrenaline."
It may only be Spring Training, but the Angels couldn't have asked for a much better start from their new key figures.
Pujols' first swing in an Angels uniform was ripped for an RBI double, and his first game finished with a 2-for-3 performance.
Wilson pitched two crisp innings of shutout baseball.
And even the new catcher, Chris Iannetta, blasted a two-run homer in the Angels' 9-1 win at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
The last time Wilson was on a Major League mound, he was pitching against Pujols in the World Series. On Monday, he was finally able to watch him from a completely different vantage point.
"You don't ever really know a guy like that from the opposite side because you treat him with so much respect, or maybe a little bit of disdain because you don't really want him to beat you," Wilson said. "But now that he's on your team, you root for every little thing that he does, and it's pretty cool. I'm happy to be in the Albert Pujols Fan Club."
This is usually the point in the season when pitchers are ahead of hitters. But Pujols has hardly put down a bat since the Cardinals beat Wilson's Rangers in the World Series four months ago.
And on Monday -- through two at-bats, at least -- Pujols already looked to be in midseason form.
Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick, the two table-setters who combined to get on base six times in a row, led off the game with back-to-back singles. Then Pujols ripped a 1-1 breaking ball from Brad Peacock into left field to put the Angels on the board.
"It's kind of funny, right?" Wilson said. "He comes up there in the first inning, knocks in a run, we're all looking at each other in the dugout laughing like, 'Oh yeah, that's Albert. That's what his job is. He knocks in runs.'"
In the second, Pujols stayed back on another breaking pitch and hit another line drive to left field, this one a single off non-roster lefty Carlos Hernandez.
In the third, though, he flied out to right field with the bases loaded. He is human, you know.
"We saw first-hand what he can do," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He looked really comfortable in the box. His bat speed was great."
"Spring Training, you want to have good success, you want to feel good about yourself for the season," Pujols added. "But I think the most important thing is to try to get yourself prepared for the season. As long as you get your at-bats, and good quality at-bats, and get your ground balls, get your swings, when it's time to turn on the light, it's time to go."
Pujols averaged 22 Grapefruit League games from 2007-11 and wants to get in as many of these as possible. It's not really to get to know the new pitchers in the new league.
"You're your own scouting report," Pujols believes.
He's just very stringent about his program.
"It's something that I love to do," Pujols said. "I love to get myself ready for the season early. I don't like to wait until the last week and try to overwork and create bad habits and take it into the season. I want to get my at-bats, take good quality at-bats, hopefully have a good spring, be healthy and ready to go for April 6. I'm not going to change my program."
Wilson's program right now consists heavily of changeups. That's the pitch the 31-year-old lefty is focusing on improving this spring, and it's a pitch he kept trying to fine tune while giving up one hit and one walk, striking out none and throwing 16 of his 25 pitches for strikes.
So, right now, Wilson is dealing with an adjustment in his repertoire, an adjustment with some mechanical tweaks he made over the offseason -- and, of course, the adjustment of a new team.
"It's a daily adjustment," Wilson said. "Instead of saying 'you guys' to saying 'us,' stuff like that. It's just something that's going to take me a while, but I have a couple years to integrate, hopefully. The guys have been awesome, they've really been welcoming, and they've been working really hard behind me back there. And it's a lot of fun."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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