ST. PETERSBURG -- Reserve infielder Maicer Izturis came into the year unsure when and where his at-bats would come. But as one of few hitters swinging the bat well early on, Angels manager Mike Scioscia has tried extra hard to find him starts.
After going the first five games without a start, Izturis -- batting .320 heading into Tuesday's series opener against the Rays -- has now started eight of the last 12 games, including Tuesday at third base.
"The coaches know about what I can do and what I can't," Izturis said in Spanish. "The main thing is just enjoying the game. If you enjoy the game, it helps your team, it helps you and you just stay positive. This is a game. You have to have fun. I don't try to put too much in my head."
The plan heading into the year was for Alberto Callaspo to mostly play third base when Mark Trumbo didn't, with Izturis focusing almost solely on the middle infield. But Izturis has now received four starts at the hot corner, with Callaspo batting just .206 through his first 11 games.
"To get in a flow, you have to play," Callaspo said in Spanish. "But I'm not hitting right now, so it's tough to justify putting me in the lineup."
Pujols still lagging at plate, but not the only one
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Angels are still waiting for that offensive firepower they expected to boast at the beginning of the year.
Mainly, they're waiting for Albert Pujols to be himself again.
Seventeen games in, that certainly hasn't been the case. Pujols went 0-for-4 in the Angels' 5-0 loss to David Price and the Rays on Tuesday night, putting him at a .232 clip, extending his homerless streak to 69 at-bats (the most to start a season) and making him hitless in four consecutive starts (the first time he has done that since September 2010).
"Stuff like that, you can't let that get into your head," Pujols said. "You just have to keep fighting and know it's a long season. I don't concentrate on individual numbers. I concentrate more as a team, and I think we're a better ballclub than what we've been showing. But it just seems like everyone in the lineup is struggling."
Pujols vows he's "not trying to go out there and do too much."
But heading into the three-game series against the Rays, two major signs seemed to point to just that: He's pulling a lot of balls (18 of his 20 ground balls have been hit to the left side, according to an ESPN.com chart) and he's a tad too aggressive (swinging at 34.3 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, which would be the most in at least the last six years, and walking just five times).
"A lot of it is just the fact that he wants to be a big part of this offense," hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said. "A lot of it is just getting back to playing his style of baseball, and I think you're going to see that in him soon. ... He watches a lot of videos, and he prepares himself as good as any hitter I've ever seen in the game. That's why I know, after 162 games, you're going to see good results from him. I think he's just frustrated."
With Pujols struggling, the Angels' offense as a whole has been ineffective, ranking 10th in the American League in runs and tied for last in homers heading into Tuesday.
The biggest red flag Hatcher sees lies in the over-aggressiveness of his hitters. The Angels have swung at the fourth-most pitches out of the strike zone in the AL, 31.9 percent, and as a result have drawn the third-fewest walks.
"It's the 3-1's and the 3-2's; we don't get challenged in those counts because they know they're going to swing," Hatcher said. "You've got to give yourself a chance to just relax and cut your swing down and see the pitches. Guys are swinging like they know guys are going to throw a strike right there."
Trumbo mans right field for fifth position in '12
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Angels weren't kidding when they told Mark Trumbo he needed to be flexible. On Tuesday, for the series opener against the Rays at Tropicana Field, the right-handed slugger started at his fifth position in the season's first month -- right field, as the No. 5 hitter.
In an effort to get his bat in the lineup as often as possible, especially against lefties, Trumbo has previously started at third base (four times), designated hitter (three), first base and left field (one each).
Since April 13, though, Trumbo has started just one game at third base -- a position he worked on for most of Spring Training but has seen him already commit three errors.
"It's a work in progress," said manager Mike Scioscia, who trotted out his 15th different lineup for Game No. 17. "I think in spring he showed the skill set to do what we feel a third baseman needs to do. It's just that he had a couple of bumps in the road early, but we're still working on it. He played third the other night, and we're going to still mix it in there."
With Trumbo in right and lefty David Price on the mound, Kendrys Morales got a day off for the second straight game and Torii Hunter made his first start of the season at DH -- where he started 19 games last year.
"He's going to definitely DH today because of the turf," Scioscia said, "and we'll see how the rest of this series goes. I don't know if [his DH days are] going to be greater [than last year], but we're going to pick our spots."
The Angels, losers of five of their last seven games, have dropped four consecutive games to the Rays, totaling just five runs in that span.
Albert Pujols' homerless streak is at 69 at-bats, which is his longest to start a season. The longest home run drought of his career is 105 at-bats from April 24 to May 22 of last year.
The four solo home runs Ervin Santana allowed on Tuesday was the most he had given up in one start through his pro career (including the Minors). His 10 homers so far is the most over any four-start stretch. Last year, he didn't allow 10 homers until May 30.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.