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Pujols' historic HR goes unnoticed

The SportsXchange

Fans and media are still suffering from home run fatigue.

It is one of undeniable remnants of baseball's Steroid Era.

Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols hit his 500th career home run Tuesday night in Washington when he connected off Nationals right-hander Taylor Jordan and it barely registered on the national consciousness. Pujols' feat didn't make the front sports page of many newspapers, and received modest television attention.

Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Kyle Lohse, who was a teammate of Pujols with the St. Louis Cardinals, found that odd.

"I don't know why that is," Lohse said. "Maybe because Albert is playing on the West Coast now? Maybe because he's put up big numbers for so many years that everyone just expected he would hit 500? It's a shame because Albert is a great player and a great person. He deserves all the credit in the world."

Pujols became the 11th slugger to join the 500 Home Run Club since 1999, when just 15 players had reached the milestone. That leads to the question of whether getting to 500 means very much anymore?

Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun thinks it does and he knows something about home runs, having hit 217 in eight seasons.

"I'd love to reach that milestone," Braun said. "It's a very special milestone and I think people forget how consistently good a player has to be for a long time to hit 500 home runs. It's a huge accomplishment and it's fitting that Albert (reached) it because he's the greatest hitter I've ever played against."

If the new standard to get excited about is 600 home runs, then Pujols seems on his way. He had two sub-par -- by his standards -- seasons with the Angels in 2012-13 after leaving the Cardinals as a free agent and signing with Los Angeles for $240 million over 10 years.

Pujols is rebounding in an MVP sort of way this year and leads the major leagues with eight home runs through 21 games.

"This year in spring training he told me he said, 'Hey man, I feel good this year,'" Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick said. "It's great to see him playing well and being his old self. He looks like the Albert of old."

AROUND THE HORN

No Cincinnati Reds player has benefitted more from the offseason managerial change in which manager Dusty Baker was fired and pitching coach Bryan Price was promoted than catcher Devin Mesoraco.

Baker never had complete faith in Mesoraco as an everyday catcher. He preferred Ryan Hanigan's strong defense over Mesoraco's offensive potential.

The 25-year-old Mesoraco is getting the chance to be the starter this season after Hanigan was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in the offseason and is taking full advantage. Mesoraco is hitting .525 with three home runs and 13 RBIs in 11 games.

"Obviously, I'm not going to hit .500 all year but I do think I've reached the point in my career where I'm ready to step up to another level," Mesoraco said. "As much as I wanted to play, I probably wasn't ready to be a No. 1 catcher until now. I feel like it's my time and I appreciate the faith the Reds are showing in me."

--The biggest fear scouts had about Chicago White Sox left-hander Chris Sale when he pitching collegiately at Florida Gulf Coast was that he would not handle a starter's workload in the major leagues. Sale only carries 180 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame and his legs look like a pair of twigs.

Sale served a two-year apprenticeship in the White Sox's bullpen then was a workhorse the last two seasons in the rotation, making 59 starts and pitching 406 1/3 innings. He also threw 127 pitches four days before he was shut down.

Now Sale is on the disabled list with flexor tendon soreness in his pitching elbow. The White Sox stress that Sale has no ligament damage, yet flexor tendon problems are often a precursor to a torn ligament and Tommy John surgery.

That would be a tough blow for the White Sox because Sale is one of the cornerstone players of a retooling effort that has taken wings quickly. A major injury would not only delay the White Sox's return to prominence but once again raise questions about Sale's long-term durability.

--Boston Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz has never been the model of consistency, with swings in his performance and injuries, but talent evaluators are concerned by what they have seen so far this season.

Buchholz is 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA through his first four starts but the most disturbing statistic is the 33 hits he has allowed in 18 1/3 innings.

"I know it's still very early in the season but he's been awful," said a scout from a National League team. "There were people accusing him of using a foreign substance last year. If he was, he better start using it again. It's baffling that a guy with this much talent could look this bad."

--Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick fired general manager Josh Byrnes and manager A.J. Hinch in 2010 because he felt they were too reliant on analytics and not enough on old-fashioned baseball savvy. Kendrick brought in two blood-and-guts types in Kevin Towers as GM and Kirk Gibson as manager.

After winning the NL West under Towers/Gibson in 2011, the Diamondbacks had consecutive 81-81 finishes in 2012-13 and now have the worst record in the major leagues at 6-18. Kendrick has changed his tune and says his team needs to use more sabermetrics in making roster decisions and developing game strategy.

When your team has a .250 winning percentage, the stat nerds don't look so dumb after all.

Senior writer John Perrotto is The Sports Xchange's baseball insider. He has covered Major League Baseball for 27 seasons.
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