TEMPE, Ariz. -- David Freese is hoping that a change of scenery can help him recover from a disappointing 2013 season and rediscover the form that made him a 20-homer man and a National League All-Star two seasons ago.
A familiar face has already begun helping him with his transition.
Freese, traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Los Angeles Angels in November, received a pleasant surprise when he walked into the clubhouse at Tempe Stadium and found his locker right beside the one inhabited by his former Cardinals teammate Albert Pujols.
The two played together in St. Louis from 2009 to 2011 before Pujols signed a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Angels as a free agent. Then, Freese arrived in Anaheim, Calif., in November as part of a four-player trade that sent outfielder Peter Bourjos to St. Louis. After Pujols learned about the trade, he immediately sent Freese a welcome-to-California text message.
"When Albert left [St. Louis], it was a tough feeling," Freese said. "We love Albert regardless of what type of player he is. To get reunited with him is great. From the first step I took in the [Angels] clubhouse, he was already here. He’s showed me the ropes for the first few days. He’s gone out of his way to help me, which is cool."
The Angels are looking for Freese to fill an offensive black hole at third base, where Alberto Callaspo, Chris Nelson, Luis Jimenez and four other players combined for a total of eight home runs last season. Only the Miami Marlins, with three homers, received less power from the third-base spot. Los Angeles’ third basemen also ranked 27th in the majors with an aggregate .637 OPS.
Freese, similarly, had a season to forget. His home run total dipped from 20 to nine, and his OPS declined from .839 in 2012 to .721 last season. In addition, he hit only .179 (10-for-56) in the postseason.
Freese was limited by a back injury in spring training last season and looked lost early in the season, failing to hit his first home run until May 17. Like his fellow Angels, who posted a 9-17 record in April, he’s intent on getting off to a better start.
"It was just a rough year," Freese said. "It was downhill from the beginning, but I grinded through it and we did what we did to get to the postseason. I’m ready to go, and I think people will see it."