After getting a rare game off, Pujols will likely be back in the lineup for the Cardinals when they open a three-game series with the upstart Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night.
St. Louis (23-17) is stuck in its worst batting slump of the season, being held to three runs in five of its last six games. The Cardinals’ only win during that span was a 5-3 victory over Milwaukee on Saturday.
Pujols, who reached base in each of St. Louis’ first 39 games, was rested Monday night in an 8-3 loss to the Brewers. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa thought it was a good opportunity to give his best player a break as St. Louis doesn’t have an off day until May 22.
“We’re not the same team without him,” said Chris Duncan, who replaced Pujols at first base. “He’s one of the best players in the game. He can’t play every game all of the time. Sometimes he needs a rest, and we have guys who can fill in and do a good job.”
Pujols, who played at least 154 games in six of his first seven seasons, isn’t expected to get an extended break. He is 4-for-6 versus the Pirates this season, and is batting .444 (12-for-27) in his last seven games against them.
Pujols has an 11-game hitting streak, but his average has actually dropped from .366 to .348 over that span. He leads the Cardinals with 25 RBIs.
St. Louis’ lineup will be facing a Pirates team that has had an excellent month, led by strong pitching. The Pirates split a doubleheader with Atlanta on Monday, winning the opener 5-0 for their sixth straight victory before falling 8-1 in the finale.
“It was a great 6-1 homestand for us,” Pirates’ first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “We finally put it all together.”
During Pittsburgh’s winning streak, its starters went 4-0 with a 2.29 ERA and a .220 opponents batting average.
Phil Dumatrait (1-1, 3.86 ERA), who got the second win during that Pirates’ streak, has given up one run over 9 2-3 innings in two starts since replacing the released Matt Morris in the rotation. He pitched 5 2-3 scoreless innings for his first career win, leading Pittsburgh to a 3-1 victory over San Francisco on Wednesday night.
He struck out five, walked one and allowed five hits. Dumatrait, 0-5 in his career entering the game, finally got his first victory eight years after he was Boston’s first-round draft pick in 2000.
The left-hander faced St. Louis in relief on April 24, giving up two runs and six hits in two innings in a 6-2 Pittsburgh loss. His only other appearance against the Cardinals was a start on Sept. 1, when he allowed five runs and seven hits for the Reds in an 11-3 St. Louis win.
The Cardinals will counter with Kyle Lohse (3-2, 4.87), who has posted a 13.50 ERA en route to losing his last two starts. The right-hander gave up seven runs and eight hits in four innings as St. Louis lost 9-3 to Colorado on Thursday.
Lohse has won both of his starts against the Pirates, allowing one run in 16 innings. He pitched a six-hitter against Pittsburgh last May 28, leading Cincinnati to a 4-0 win.
The Cardinals and Pirates split a two-game series in Pittsburgh from April 23-24.