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Pujols: First spring appearance in field leads to other questions

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist

PHOENIX -- No ground balls. No line drives. Little action.

But Tuesday was a notable day for Albert Pujols nonetheless.

He played first base for the first time this spring.

“It was great,” he said. “Just like I was expecting it to be.

“I didn't get any plays, but it was good to get out there and get my feet wet and moving around.”

Following surgery after last season to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, Pujols has been taking it easy this spring.

Not that he's been moving slowly around here, but cacti have been known to grow at a quicker pace.

He is 33 now, and though the Angels are downplaying Pujols' physical status, the fact that he hasn't played in the field until March 19 is significant.

So is the fact that manager Mike Scioscia revealed after the Angels' 6-1 Cactus League loss to the Brewers here Tuesday that Pujols also has been managing plantar fasciitis in his left foot this spring.

And the fact that the Angels used a “courtesy runner” for him whenever he reached base until late last week is more than a little strange. Ghost runners apparently were out of the question.

“I think my big challenge is going to be jumping for a ball and landing awkwardly,” Pujols said. “That's something you don't test. You react.

“I'm taking my time, working myself into it.”

He also sounded an alarm when he said he phoned Red Sox slugger David Ortiz a couple of weeks ago to quiz him on the tricks of the designated hitter trade.

Though Pujols plans to forge ahead as a first baseman, the mere fact that he's doing research on DHing is an acknowledgement of Father Time and a body that perhaps isn't as elastic as it once was. He has nine seasons and $228 million remaining on his contract.

He's satisfied that he's got both legs under him at the plate. Tuesday's was his eighth game this spring, and he's hitting .318 with two homers and five RBI. He should have three homers, except Brewers' center fielder Logan Schafer robbed him Tuesday.

Pujols said that despite his limited time this spring, he feels better at the plate than he did last February and March when he hit a sizzling .383 with seven homers and 20 RBI.

His goal, he said, is to play 155 or more games in 2013. He played in 154 last summer in an uneven -- and un-Pujols-like -- year, hitting .285 with 30 homers and 105 RBI.

“The last two months of our season were pretty rough,” he acknowledged of a time when he was limping around, noticeably in pain.

It was during this time that he spent more time than usual as a DH, and the foreign feeling from that is what caused him to phone Ortiz.

“Last year as a DH, I was hitting too much in between at-bats,” Pujols said. “I feel like I was wearing myself out.”

Ortiz had his own problems when the two sluggers spoke -- Pujols caught him just before the Red Sox shut Ortiz down with a stubborn case of Achilles tendinitis that just will not go away.

Pujols said Ortiz asked him lots of questions.

“I explained what I was doing,” Pujols said. “Taking 70 swings during the day, 20 more swings between innings … I felt it. I was getting real sore and worn out.”

With 11 days remaining in the exhibition season, Pujols said he would like to play first base seven or eight more times.

“I feel I'm ready to go if opening day is tomorrow,” Pujols said.

The fact that it isn't perhaps is a good thing as Pujols' body continues to try to catch up with his bat.

 
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