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Morales' return another significant moment for Angels in opener

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Difference maker for the Angels?

Yeah, Albert Pujols. But that's not the only answer.

Kendrys Morales, the Cuban slugger who finished fifth in the 2009 AL MVP voting before missing nearly two full seasons with a broken left ankle, returned to the Angels lineup Friday night batting sixth.

"I've always had positive thoughts," Morales said through a translator just before the game with Kansas City. "I always thought I could get back to where I was."

If he does, that's no small statement. Morales, a switch-hitter, smashed 34 home runs, had 108 RBI and had a .569 slugging percentage (second in the AL) in '09.

But he broke his left ankle while leaping onto home plate celebrating a game-winning grand slam on May 29, 2010, and hasn't played since. After missing the rest of 2010 following surgery, he needed another surgery last May to clean out scar tissue and debris in his left ankle joint.

"I don't feel exactly like I did going into 2010, but I feel like I can get there," Morales said.

He hit the ball hard in his first two at-bats Friday night, scorching a double-play ground ball to shortstop in the second, and then driving a Bruce Chen pitch to the wall in right-center, where Lorenzo Cain hauled it in.

In 13 Cactus League games this spring, Morales batted .367 (11 for 30) with two homers and five RBI in 13 games.

He said he didn't think he would be nervous in Friday's opener ("being nervous is for kids") and noted the Angels are "putting a lot of confidence in me" putting him in the lineup sixth, between Vernon Wells and Mark Trumbo.

Last thing to come to him at the plate in games? Confidence, he said.

"It's not easy to come back," Morales, 28, said. "I think I'm getting there.

"The only thing left is to see how it translates into games."
 
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