Four days ago, Albert Pujols seemed to scoff at the notion that he was a mere mortal who needed spring training to prepare for Opening Day. “I’ve got 8,000 at-bats in the big leagues,” he said Friday at Tempe Diablo Stadium. “I think I’ve got plenty.”
Pujols may have been kidding but he wasn’t smiling.
So it came as a surprise to everyone outside the Angels’ spring headquarters — and perhaps some of the announced crowd of 4,170 for Tuesday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds — when Pujols’ name was penciled into the DH slot. (Those responsible for the empty seats in the half-empty stadium will probably be the most surprised of all.)
“These at-bats are very important,” he said. “This is what gets you ready.”
Pujols grounded out in the first inning against Mike Leake, struck out in the fourth inning against Aroldis Chapman (Pujols said that Chapman threw three sliders) and grounded out in the sixth inning against Wilkin De La Rosa.
“It’s good to get in the game just to see live pitching, period.”
Pujols said he saw the ball “fine” and that he hopes to play on Thursday in Peoria against the San Diego Padres.
“I don’t mind traveling,” he said. “I’m used to it. When I was in the National League with the Cardinals I made three and a half hour trips.”
The next step for Pujols is to run the bases in a game and play the field. On a television interview, Pujols hinted that playing first base might be “a couple weeks” away, but that isn’t set in stone. Pujols wouldn’t be able to be the designated hitter on Opening Day, since the Angels open the season against the Reds in Cincinnati.
“I’m just happy to be in the game, get myself ready to go for Opening Day,” Pujols said. “Actually, I told you guys this morning one good thing is that this is a long spring raining. If this was a normal spring training, we only would have played two games. … That was a plus for me, because I was able to take this weekend off and do my rehab, do whatever I had to do, then here I am. I look at it like a normal spring training to me.”
Angels manager Mike Scioscia confirmed that Pujols will take the day off tomorrow and hinted that he might miss Thursday’s game too.
“Albert’s going to probably take it easy tomorrow, take a couple days to recover, do some drills in the field,” Scioscia said. “It’s good for him to get a comfort level in the batter’s box, but we need to be conscious that he’s still trying to get his rhythm on the bases. It might take some games.”