TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Albert Pujols is almost ready to get a running start on the second half of his mega-contract with the Los Angeles Angels.
Pujols is making steady progress in his recovery from foot surgery. The three-time NL MVP is doing rehabilitation work at the Angels’ spring training complex with the goal of being ready to play on opening day.
“It’s been really good,” Pujols told reporters on Sunday. “No soreness at all afterward. That’s a good sign, anytime you get to start hitting in the cage and moving around and doing agility (drills). I expect myself to probably get a little sore when I get on the field, because it’s a different movement than being on carpet or whatever. I don’t think I’ll have any setbacks.”
Pujols is running on a weight-minimizing treadmill and swinging in the cage while the Angels take a deliberate approach to his health during their extra-long spring training. Pujols had surgery on his right foot in December after a less invasive treatment program didn’t work quickly enough, but he believes he can be back in playing form in April.
“Yeah, it had to be done,” Pujols said. “A lot of people asked, ‘Why didn’t it happen right after the season?’ Well, you just don’t do surgeries right away. You go through the procedure, you do the treatment, and that’s what I did. … If I’m ready to go, then I’m ready to go.”
Pujols turned 37 last month, and the Angels are eager to preserve their cleanup hitter’s health as he continues his chase for 600 homers this spring. He enters the season with 591 career homers after hitting 31 last season.
His bat is a key to the Angels’ hopes for a return to playoff contention after they slumped to 74-88 last year, their worst season of his half-decade with the club.
Pujols has five years and $140 million remaining on the lavish free-agent contract given to him by Angels owner Arte Moreno in late 2011. Pujols provided solid value for that money last season, but he realizes his health will determine his ability to fulfill the rest of it.
Pujols was fourth in the majors with 119 RBIs season. Despite a series of leg injuries, he has been a durable presence at the plate, playing in at least 152 games in four of his five seasons with the Angels.
He isn’t worried about playing in many spring training games, saying he gets his important work done in the batting cage.
“That’s something that I’m repeating myself over and over, and I can control it,” he said.
Pujols is likely to play largely as a designated hitter again this season while the Angels minimize his movement until he is fully healthy. He played only 28 games at first base last season, along with 123 as a DH.
Pujols loves playing in the field, saying it improves his hitting by keeping him in the rhythm of the game. Yet he understands why Luis Valbuena and C.J. Cron are likely to be at first base for the Angels, at least to start the season.
“It’s not like DH is bad,” he said. “I mean, it’s part of the game. As long as I’m in the lineup and helping this team out, that’s what I’m going to do.
“I spoke to several guys that have done this,” Pujols added. “One of those guys was David Ortiz. I spoke to him about DHing the last couple of years, and Edwin Encarnacion. They just gave me a couple of routines that I put together, and it makes it a little bit easier for me, because it’s hard just sitting down and waiting until you have to hit. If I’m ready to be in the field, I’m going to take that step. But if I’m not ready, then DH is where I’m going to be.”
Pujols picked good players for advice: Ortiz and Encarnacion were the only AL hitters who drove in more runs than him last season.