Angels' Pujols eyes opening day, more open to DH
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) The Los Angeles Angels medical staff may suggest Albert Pujols won't be ready for the start of the regular season, but the slugger thinks otherwise.
Smiling, pain free and eager to get the Angels back to the playoffs, Pujols arrived at spring training Tuesday optimistic in his recovery from offseason surgery on his right foot.
''My target is opening day,'' Pujols said in front of his locker, wearing a small bandage under his left elbow where blood was drawn for his morning physical. ''I'm going to do whatever I have to do in spring training to get ready for opening day and see how it goes from there.''
Pujols has been swinging a bat for about a month. He's done some running. He hasn't done any fielding. And while the three-time NL MVP said that's not unusual for any offseason, he acknowledged he's open to spending more time at designated hitter instead of first base if that means he'll stay healthy.
Pujols has had plantar fasciitis issues throughout his career.
''I don't really care about the DH or playing first base,'' Pujols said. ''I would love to play first base if I can, but I can't be selfish.''
Pujols said last year was ''no fun'' after hurting his foot running out a double-play grounder after a long rain delay in Cleveland on Aug. 28. He stayed in the lineup as a DH in hopes of getting the Angels into the postseason, but they missed by one game despite his first 40-homer season since he left St. Louis.
Pujols hoped to avoid offseason surgery, but doctors told him otherwise. That's why he waited until November, pushing his rehab timetable to close to the April 4 opener against the Chicago Cubs. Manager Mike Scioscia said the medical team thinks Pujols will miss some time.
But Pujols is more confident, saying he felt a difference three days after the procedure.
''I was like, `Oh my God, are you serious?''' Pujols said. ''This is unreal. It felt great.''
Scioscia said Pujols is cleared to take batting practice, but will be eased into fielding drills. The team has prepared for his potential absence, with newly acquired Daniel Nava arriving to camp early to take grounders at first. C.J. Cron, who often played there last season when Pujols was the DH, is also a possibility.
''We're absolutely a better team when he plays first base,'' Scioscia said of Pujols. ''Moving it a little bit further, the most important component of what Albert does for our team is what he does in the batter's box. So it doesn't make any sense to risk what he does in the batter's box with the defensive component.''
The Angels also hope Pujols can raise his average from a career-worst .244 last year. Scioscia said advanced metrics showed that his line-drive percentage was up, but his balls-in-play average was ''way down.''
''Was it bad luck? I think it was,'' Scioscia said. ''I never saw a guy hit the ball so hard. Was it (defensive) shifting?''
Pujols had no interest in talking about 2015. He insisted he'll be content if he spends more time at DH. All the 10-time All-Star wants is to team up with star Mike Trout and put the Angels back in the postseason.
''Obviously, it hasn't been too pretty over the last few years,'' Pujols said, ''But hopefully we can turn things around.''