Los Angeles Angels players, from left, Josh Hamilton, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, attend a news conference during spring training Thursday in Tempe, Ariz.
TEMPE, Ariz. — As Josh Hamilton hammed it up with a series of good-natured wisecracks, a serious Albert Pujols sat in silence two seats away, arms crossed.
Mike Trout was in the middle, grinning.
“Hello guy in the booth, what’s your name?” Hamilton asked.
“Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“Do I have time to go to the bathroom?”
The Los Angeles Angels’ new slugger might have the biggest personality of this talented trio. Biggest swing? To be determined, though Pujols and Trout aren’t about to pick against Hamilton in a home run contest.
Hamilton led an entertaining back-and-forth for 30 minutes Thursday at a cactus-lined hotel perched above the team’s spring training site in the Arizona desert.
No joint nickname for these power hitters. Not yet, anyway.
Jered Weaver has no idea how he would pitch to them — and it’s not his problem. For that, he is thankful.
Weaver will get to watch the Angels’ big boppers do their thing each day. And he pities the rest of the American League’s pitching staffs for having to face this slugging crew.
“I don’t have to worry about it, so that’s a plus for me,” Weaver said. “There’s a lot of potent pieces in this puzzle, in this lineup. I feel sorry for opposing pitchers. We’re pretty good 1 through 9. You get to not only the top of the lineup but the middle of the lineup and there are still some guys who can hurt you.”
The Angels will hold their first full-squad workout Friday at Tempe Diablo Stadium with the three stars together at last. Hamilton, the 2010 AL MVP, received a $125 million, five-year contract in mid-December, a year after Pujols’ $240 million, 10-year deal.
Manager Mike Scioscia insists he’s not getting too excited until everybody is healthy and in the lineup come opening day, which still feels way off.
Scioscia realizes with his roster, there’s no avoiding the constant attention that will be on his club in Orange County considering the high-profile moves and a lineup of stars.
“It’s going to be good to get them in the clubhouse,” the skipper said before the pitchers and catchers worked out Thursday. “I think we’re excited about getting that whole group in here tomorrow and getting started. We know what we need to accomplish in the spring and we’re going to focus on that, and from there we’re going to look toward opening day once we get through spring. And I think that’s when it will hit. Hopefully, you get through spring in one piece and get guys where they need to be and you can watch that lineup play that day and hopefully for a long time from there.”
Hamilton and Pujols have more than one thing in common. They both have a strong faith, and have even traded Bible verses at first base.
“He’s a great guy. Every time he goes to first base, it seems like he always has a verse for me, ‘What you got for me?”’ Hamilton said.
This spring, Pujols is easing back from arthroscopic right knee surgery in October, but plans to be full strength by opening day.
Hamilton has maintained his weight at 225 pounds, where he ended last season. He cut out bread and gluten, then added juice drinks.
“Don’t use a headline ‘Hamilton juicing,”’ he quipped. “I already feel better. My joints feel better, energy level’s up, caffeine’s down. I didn’t lose any weight, I just didn’t gain any.”
Scioscia has thought about lineups with Hamilton batting second but plans to go with Pujols in the No. 3 slot and Hamilton cleanup to best take advantage of Pujols’ on-base percentage.
“Right now to try and lengthen our lineup out to where we want to be, it makes more sense to have him in the cleanup spot and we’ll adjust as our offense evolves, if we have to,” Scioscia said.
The Angles are in a must-win now mode after an 89-73 season in 2012 for a third-place finish in the AL West and a third straight year out of the playoffs.
“There’s been some big expectations the past couple years,” said Weaver, coming off a career-best 20-5 season. “They always say, ‘There’s always next year,’ and next year is here.”
The Angels are counting on the addition of Hamilton to get them off to a fast start after beginning 6-14 last spring and then enduring a 5-13 funk in the first 19 days of August.
“We can’t have that one little hiccup at the beginning of the year and find ourselves scoreboard watching,” Trout said.
Hamilton fills a void in center field left by the departure of clubhouse leader Torii Hunter. Trout will shift to left, and said that’s fine with him if it helps the Angels become a contender again.
The 31-year-old Hamilton hit a career-high 43 home runs last season and batted .285 with 128 RBIs in 148 games.
“Josh was a little streaky last year, but still the numbers are there and that threat’s there and that production is there,” Scioscia said. “And that’s going to be huge for us.”
Pujols certainly will be looking to boost his April numbers and be more consistent.
He batted .190 with no homers in April last year, then finished with a .285 average with 30 homers, 50 doubles and 105 RBIs. Trout, meanwhile, produced one of the most impressive rookie seasons ever. He led the AL in runs (129) and stolen bases (49), hit 30 homers with 83 RBIs and finished second in the batting race at .326 behind Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.
“Last year was last year. Let’s talk about 2013,” Pujols said. “I’m one of those guys I don’t like to look for excuses. Sometimes you try to press, that’s human nature. If you don’t do that, you aren’t human.”
If all goes as Scioscia envisions it, Pujols and Hamilton will provide the kind of middle-of-the-order punch the Tigers have in Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
“We hope, much along the lines of what you saw with Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, those two guys in the middle of the order fed off each other and really formed an incredible middle of the lineup,” Scioscia said. “And I think we have the potential to do that with Josh and Albert. I do think those guys are going to get comfortable, feed off each other and be productive.”
Their bond might go deeper than just on the field, too.
Hamilton, who has acknowledged he will always be an addict, believes he has already begun to build a reliable support system like the one he had the past five years in Texas.
“Moving to a new city it’s important to have someone hold you accountable,” he said. “You find guys who you put in your circle.”
On Thursday, Hamilton only had to look to his left and see Trout and Pujols. Clearly, two guys he can count on.
Pujols makes it clear the Angels won’t get ahead of themselves at this early stage, even if the end goal is getting back to the playoffs.
“There’s no guarantee to us,” he said. “Let’s concentrate on today.”MORE IN Sports WireCHICAGO — The music starts and fans clap in unison as Starlin Castro walks to the plate. Full StoryORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Yellow flags have become a red flag for Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills. Full Story
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