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Pujols glad to step out of the spotlight

BASEBALL : ANGELS FYI

February 14, 2013|Mike DiGiovanna
  • Angels sluggers Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols prepare for batting practice during a spring training workout Wednesday in Tempe, Ariz.
Angels sluggers Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols prepare for batting practice… (Matt York / Associated Press )

TEMPE, ARIZ. — Josh Hamilton, the Angels' new right fielder, spent half an hour in a Tempe Diablo Stadium batting cage Wednesday, answering questions from a television reporter and taking cuts for a special camera.

Albert Pujols stopped by the dugout for a quick five-minute interview, grabbed his bats and glove and retreated to a back field for batting practice.

"I told Josh, 'The camera is all on you,' " Pujols said, his chuckle indicating levity but his statement ringing true.

Pujols was the center of media and fan attention -- and the Angels' marketing efforts -- last spring after signing a 10-year, $240-million deal. And that spotlight intensified in April when the first baseman got off to a horrendous start, batting .194 with no homers and five runs batted in through 27 games.

The former St. Louis Cardinals slugger rebounded to finish with a .285 average, 30 homers, 50 doubles and 105 RBIs, but as he begins his second camp with the Angels, Pujols may have lost his North Star status in the team's constellation. Not that he seems to mind.

Hamilton signed a five-year, $125-million deal with the Angels in December, and now the five-time All-Star and 2010 American League most valuable player is as much a focal point as Pujols.

Mike Trout, after a rookie season in which he hit .326 with 30 homers, 83 RBIs, 129 runs and 49 stolen bases and placed second in MVP voting, will also deflect plenty of attention from Pujols.

The team will hold a news conference for all three players on Thursday.

"The focus should be on the club, not just one player," Pujols said. "When you start thinking the focus is on you, you can lose your concentration a bit."

Pujols fielded a flurry of media requests last spring but hit .383 with four homers and 15 RBIs in 23 exhibition games, so he did not appear distracted. The pressure that helped fuel his April slump, he said, came from the inside, not the outside.

"I'll try not to do too much this April, which is what everybody was doing last year," Pujols said of a 6-14 start that helped torpedo the team's playoff chances. "Sometimes that happens. You try to do whatever it takes to help the team win, and you can press a little too much.

"Nothing distracted me last season. I had a great spring, a terrible April, and a great rest of the season. That's how it is. Sometimes you go through struggles and you learn from them."

Trout, who will bat leadoff, Pujols, who will hit third, and Hamilton, who will bat cleanup, form the nucleus of a lineup that should be among the best in baseball, so no matter how the spotlight is spread among the three, there will be considerable pressure to perform.

"There are a lot of expectations, which is good, but you still have to go out there and play the game the right way, do whatever it takes to win the championship," said Pujols, who underwent minor surgery to clean out his right knee in October. "That's our main goal. We have the talent. We have the ability."

Comeback delayed

An MRI test showed mild inflammation but no significant damage to Ryan Madson's surgically repaired elbow, but the reliever will not resume throwing for at least a week, and he is expected to open the season on the disabled list.

"I was pointing toward the season opener, and I think that maybe got me into a little bit of trouble," said Madson, the former Philadelphia closer who missed the 2012 season because of Tommy John surgery. "Now, I don't have a set date in mind. I'm just going to listen to the trainers and let my arm do its thing."

Cordero signs

Chad Cordero, the former Cal State Fullerton reliever who last pitched in the big leagues in 2010, has signed a minor league contract with the Angels.

Cordero, 30, retired from baseball in June 2011 after pitching briefly with the independent-league St. Paul Saints. As the Washington Nationals' closer from 2005-07, Cordero saved 113 games, including a National League-leading 47 in 2005, before his career was derailed by arm injuries.

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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