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In lame moment, Albert criticizes embattled hitting coach Hatcher

Ah, now we have finally gotten to the bottom of Albert Pujols' stunning early season hitting issues. It isn't the pressure of his new huge contract. It's not the heavy air of Orange County, either. Nor is it an adjustment to a different league with different pitchers.

No, it's Mickey Hatcher!

Yes, Hatcher, the Angels' kind, upbeat, even inspirational hitting coach is to blame for Pujols' surprising batting woes. And it's not because of any particular hitting tip gone awry, either. It's because Hatcher has loose lips.

Yes, Hatcher had the gall to tell the media that Pujols stood up at the Angels' series-opening meeting of hitters (and I use the term loosely based on their current state) and tell his new teammates that he wouldn't be struggling forever, and furthermore, he's had experience with team slumps before, and that together they'd work their way out of it.

It is good to hear Pujols is doing what he's supposed to be doing in the clubhouse even if he isn't doing it yet on the field. Though as to the message, if Pujols' teammates had seen a boxscore or watched a highlight in, oh, the last decade or so, they probably already knew that about Pujols.

Anyway, bravo for Pujols doing what he's supposed to do as an all-time great with an incredible history of overcoming odds and winning. He was providing leadership.

But apparently, Pujols didn't want us to know. Apparently, he was unhappy at the retelling of this nice story. Maybe he wanted us all to think he's doing nothing at all useful at a time he's hitting .217 with zero home runs and four RBI through his first 92 at-bats.

Pujols is apparently so upset at Hatcher that he publicly criticized the man who tried to impart a positive story about him, telling Scott Miller of CBSSports.com and other writers, "Mickey should have never told you guys that. That stuff needs to be private.''

That stuff. Meaning a positive yet ultimately innocuous story about an all-time great trying to prove his worth.

The stuff that should remain private is criticism of a low-paid coach -- coaches salaries aren't publicly known but assume Hatcher takes a year to make what Pujols makes in one or two games -- by the face of the team making a guaranteed $240 million over 10 years (plus the personal-services loot at the end).

"He should bever have told the media,'' Pujols continued. "What we talked about at the meeting, not disrespecting Mickey, but that still should stay behind closed doors.''

Pujols promised to get more negative word directly to the Hatcher. But not before millions of fans heard first that Pujols, the $240-million man, is annoyed by Hatcher, of course.

If anyone has loose lips, turns out it's Albert himself.

Pujols is probably just mad in general these days. Nobody figured he'd knock in only four runs his first month as the Angels' new savior. That he'd carry a puny .570 OPS into May. And that he'd be outslugged over an entire month by perennially struggling ex-Angel Chone Figgins or perennially light-hitting ex-Angel Jeff Mathis.

Forgive Pujols for his momentary lack of discretion there (but only if he reverses course). There has to be a lot of pressure knowing this should be the best year of a 10-year deal, and that he's not doing anything to stem the Angels' woeful 8-15 start.

Manager Mike Scioscia could stand up for his friend Hatcher and paint it as a misunderstandoing borne out of the frustration of their first-month flop. But really, it is up to Albert to spare Hatcher. Pujols has to know there have been items the past couple days in the Los Angeles Times and MLB.com about the tenuousness of Hatcher's current employment.

Pujols needs to do what he can to spare the job of the man who already had a target the size of Angels Stadium on his back. And by the way, that target exists thanks to the struggles of Pujols (and the others).

And don't think the Angels won't can Hatcher, either. The Angels have a recent history of blaming the little people. Or at least of firing them.

The Angels fired scouting director Eddie Bane not too long after he picked future superstar Mike Trout with the 25th pick in the draft. They fired longtime trainer Ned Bergert, the fellow whose quick thinking in the team's bad 1992 bus crash spared further pain and suffering and earned him a promotion to head trainer at the time. They've fired tens more, too, in Arte Moreno's reign.

All, it seems, to have saved up enough money to import a superstar with a colossal contract and a misplaced sense of what should be said by whom.
 
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