About four weeks into what seemed like an unlikely partnership, the Dodgers have gotten everything they could have asked for from Albert Pujols, and then some.
He’ll start at first base and bat cleanup on Saturday against Rangers left-hander Kolby Allard, a role in which the 41-year-old Pujols has thrived this season. Combining his time with the Angels and Dodgers, Pujols is hitting .339/.371/.729 with a 200 wRC+ against southpaws. He has seven home runs against left-handers; the only player in the majors with more is Salvador Perez, with eight.
Pujols’ batted-ball data has been just as good, with a .358 expected batting average and .759 slugging percentage.
“We feel his body, his swing, the efficiency in his swing, is better than it has been in the past. He’s talked about how much healthier he feels right now,” said Andrew Friedman on May 17, when the Dodgers’ signing of Pujols was finalized.
On the surface, it didn’t seem to make much sense for Pujols to join the Dodgers, considering the Angels, after releasing him, said Pujols wanted to play every day, and that Pujols has been, in total, below replacement level since 2017.
|C||Heim (S)||RF||McKinstry (L)|
But Pujols said he made no such claim, and would be fine with any role on the Dodgers. Friedman and Dave Roberts were open with Pujols that his role could diminish based on circumstances.
“I told [Friedman] I’d be ready whether it’s a day I don’t play, or whether that’s a day I feel I can go out there and help this ball club win,” Pujols said when he signed.
His role at first was a larger one, starting 10 of his first 15 games with the Dodgers, during a time when Cody Bellinger, Zach McKinstry, Corey Seager, and AJ Pollock were all hurt, and the Dodgers were getting very little bench production out of rookies Luke Raley, Sheldon Neuse, and DJ Peters.
Since Bellinger, McKinstry, and Pollock returned, Pujols’ playing time has been more as a reserve, starting just two of the last eight games. He’s also pinch hit seven times, matching his total in that role over the previous nine seasons.
In total, Saturday’s start is Pujols’ seventh in seven games against a left-handed starting pitcher, compared to six starts in 17 games against right-handers, against whom Pujols is just 2-for-24 (.083) with a home run since joining the Dodgers, and .145/.211/.253 in 83 plate appearances on the season.
Both starts for Pujols in the last 10 days were against lefties. He had two hits in each game, including one home run. Pujols didn’t start on Friday, but played the final eight innings at first base and got two more hits, including another home run against a left-hander.
Since joining the Dodgers, Pujols is 13-for-32 with two doubles and four home runs against left-handers, hitting .406/.441/.844 with a 249 wRC+. During that time, he leads MLB with 10 RBI against lefties, is tied for second in hits, and tied for third in homers. The only two Dodgers all season with more homers against southpaws are Max Muncy (five homers, in 73 plate appearances) and Justin Turner (five, in 84 PA), both with more than double the PA of Pujols.
“You never know whqt you’re going to get. But I think he’s a guy that’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer who’s excited to be here. I think that’s a good start,” Roberts said Friday. “That’s what we had from Albert, and the production has been really good for all of us.”
The new guy
With Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger out of Saturday’s lineup as expected after their injuries suffered Friday, Andy Burns — who was called up earlier Saturday — starts at second base. It’s the first major league start for the 30-year-old Burns, who played in 10 games in 2016 with the Blue Jays.
Gavin Lux gets a previously-planned day off as well in the midst of nine straight game days, and Chris Taylor is at shortstop. The Dodgers have eight right-handed batters in their lineup against the lefty Allard. Mookie Betts shifted to center field with Bellinger out, and the lone left-hander in the lineup, Zach McKinstry starts in right.