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Angels' hot-hitting Mike Trout earns danger sign in 11-1 win

HOUSTON — Maybe Lucas Harrell's four-pitch walk of Mike Trout with the bases loaded and two outs in the second inning Friday was simply a byproduct of the control problems the Houston Astros right-hander had throughout his shaky three-inning start against the Angels.

Surely, the Astros wouldn't pitch around Trout — and concede a run — so early in the game to face one of the baseball's most vaunted sluggers, Albert Pujols, the three-time National League most valuable player who has hit more home runs against Houston (48) than any player in baseball history.

Or would they?

BOX SCORE: Angels 11, Astros 1

Trout crushed a first-inning homer that seemed to put a dent in an advertising sign above the left-field wall, so loud was the sound that echoed through Minute Maid Park upon impact. The solo shot jump-started the Angels toward an 11-1 win and eased the sting of their 0-3 start.

When Trout, who is batting .429 with two homers, a triple and a double in four games, came up in the second, Houston Manager Bo Porter didn't give the star center fielder the Barry Bonds or Josh Hamilton treatment and order a bases-loaded intentional walk.

But it seemed as if Harrell wanted nothing to do with Trout, throwing three low-and-away breaking balls in the dirt and an inside fastball to force in a run for a 2-0 Angels lead.

"I don't know," Trout said with an impish grin, when asked whether he thought Harrell was pitching around him. "I was looking for a good pitch to hit, and the first three pitches didn't reach the plate. I don't know what to tell you."

Harrell threw 76 pitches in the game — 38 balls and 38 strikes — so it was clear he was struggling with his command. But the sequence to Trout could also be a reflection of how dangerous a hitter Trout has become and how Pujols' threat level seems to have gone from red (severe) to something between blue (guarded) and yellow (elevated).

Pujols followed the walk to Trout by grounding out to third. Pujols also grounded to third in his next two at-bats and finished with an infield single in five at-bats, his average standing at .176. He hit a hard line drive for an out in his last at-bat.

When Pujols signed his 10-year, $240-million contract before 2012, one of the big questions was how the Angels would best protect him in the lineup. Two years later, the question has become: Who will protect Trout?

"They're always going to pitch carefully to Mike — he walked 110 times last year," Scioscia said. "Protecting Mike is important, but I think these guys behind Mike are going to give him plenty of pitches to see.… Albert hit a rocket in his last at-bat, so hopefully he's getting there."

Hamilton, who as the cleanup batter is also connected to Trout, seems to be getting there. After going three for six with two walks in the first two games against Seattle, Hamilton struck out four times Wednesday night.

But he bounced back Friday, hitting singles in the third and fourth innings and breaking the game open with a three-run homer to right in the sixth that gave the Angels an 8-1 lead.

Hamilton, the former Texas Rangers star, loves playing against the Astros, and with his three-hit, one-walk game Friday, he is batting .346 (63 for 182) with 15 homers, eight doubles, six triples and 39 runs batted in in 51 games against them.

Hamilton also has the highest slugging percentage (.703) of any player with at least 200 plate appearances against Houston.

"I ended the season last year feeling pretty good, but not like I feel now," said Hamilton, who hit .250 with 21 homers and 79 RBIs in 2013. "The biggest thing for me is staying calm, understanding I have enough time. I don't have to rush anything. Try to slow the game down as much as possible.

"Trout is good at that. He slows the game down. He takes pitches."

Just not too many, the Angels hope.

Twitter: @MikeDiGiovanna

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