Albert Pujols hopes to keep showing he’s rediscovered his hitting stroke as the Cardinals visit Freddy Sanchez, coming off a strong season debut, and the Pirates in the opener of a three-game set on Monday.
Pujols, traditionally a strong starter, had been 1-for-17 with no RBIs and a .200 on-base percentage through the first five games of the season. The Cardinals won only once in that span while scoring seven total runs.
Last year’s NL MVP runner-up finally made a significant contribution on Sunday, going 2-for-5 with a two-run homer and three runs scored to help St. Louis (2-4) to a 10-1 win at Houston.
“We needed to get going,” Pujols said, “and obviously, that’s what we did today. Everybody contributed. That’s what our goal is.”
It took six games for the All-Star first baseman to hit his first home run of the season after he had 14 in April last year - his most of any month - while hitting .346 with 32 RBIs. He entered this season with a .331 lifetime batting average in April.
“Sometimes you see the ball well,” Pujols said. “You need to make adjustments and I try to make an adjustment every at-bat. That’s what I did today, tried to figure out how they were pitching me and hopefully adjust to those things.”
Pujols was dominant versus Pittsburgh in 2006, batting .474 with seven homers and 13 RBIs in 12 games. He’s a career .369 hitter against the Pirates and his 32 homers and 91 RBIs against them are his most versus any opponent.
In the teams’ most recent meeting on Sept. 3, Pujols hit three homers - all off Ian Snell (0-0, 3.00 ERA), who takes the mound for Pittsburgh on Monday.
While the Pirates (4-2) were encouraged by Snell’s season debut Tuesday, when he struck out a career-high 11 over six innings in a 3-2 win over Houston, they also were pleased with Sanchez’s first regular-season appearance.
The winner of the NL batting title last season with a .344 average, Sanchez opened the season on the disabled list due to a sprained right knee before returning to the lineup Sunday. The third baseman singled and scored on Jack Wilson’s homer in the fifth inning and had an RBI double in the sixth of a 6-3 win over Cincinnati.
“I’m still trying to work out the kinks,” said Sanchez, who batted leadoff after hitting third for most of last season. “It felt good to get back out there. I was a little antsy.”
It was a breakout game offensively for Pittsburgh, which had season highs in runs and hits (13), including three doubles and three homers.
“Sanchez was missed,” Pirates manager Jim Tracy said. “He can flat hit.”
Another strong game from the Pirates offense would benefit Snell, who allowed two runs and four hits with one walk on Tuesday. He’s 1-1 with a 5.50 ERA in four appearances against St. Louis.
While Snell has pitched at least five innings in 25 consecutive outings, the Cardinals’ Braden Looper (0-1, 4.50) went more than three innings for the first time in his 10-year career on Wednesday. His run of 572 straight relief appearances ended as the Cardinals’ experiment of using the former closer as a starter began, and Looper came through with a respectable outing.
The right-hander threw five scoreless innings before tiring in the sixth of a 10-0 loss to the New York Mets. Looper allowed three runs and eight hits in six innings, walking one striking out three.
The Cardinals went 9-6 versus the Pirates last year despite being outscored by four runs. St. Louis totaled only 12 runs in the final two series between the teams.