Injuries to Angels' Matt Shoemaker, Albert Pujols come at crucial point

Their playoff hopes buoyed by three straight wins to start September, the Angels absorbed a pair of body blows Saturday, one to pitcher Matt Shoemaker's right forearm and one to first baseman Albert Pujols' right foot.

Shoemaker suffered a strain that will force him to miss Monday night's start against the Dodgers, but an MRI test showed no structural damage, and Shoemaker is confident he will return later in the week.

Pujols injured the area around his second toe in Cleveland on Aug. 28, and the pain has worsened to the point the slugger fears he may be limited to designated hitter duty for the rest of the season.

Neither injury may sink the Angels, who are trying to find their bearings after a brutal 10-19 August, but their timing is not good.

Shoemaker, after a brief demotion to triple-A, was superb in his last two starts, allowing one run and six hits, striking out 10 and walking three, in 14 1/3 innings of wins at Detroit and Oakland.

Pujols leads the team with 35 homers and 80 runs batted in, and the Angels are a far better club with him at first than C.J. Cron, who has been a highly productive hitter since early July but has struggled defensively.

There are only 27 games left after Saturday night's game against the Texas Rangers, and the Angels need to be as close to full strength as possible to claim a playoff spot. Or, they'll just have to play through more pain.

"I'm not going to throw in the towel on my teammates," Pujols said. "I'm going to play like this until the rest of the year. We're too close in the race for me to come out of the lineup. It's one of those aches and pains that I'm going to have to suck up like I've done before."

Pujols said his foot started bothering him after he hit the first-base bag on a double-play in Cleveland, "and since then, it's gotten worse and worse," Pujols said. "It's not getting better."

Pujols made three starts at first and three at DH in the next six games. He was at first in Saturday's lineup but was moved to DH three hours before the game.

An X-ray showed no broken bones, but when his right knee, which was surgically repaired after the 2012 season, started acting up Saturday morning, Pujols knew he couldn't risk further injury by playing defense.

"I don't want to mess with my knee," Pujols said. "I felt a little tightness and was sore because I was trying to protect my foot. I don't want something else to bother me."

Pujols said the pain in his foot is as severe, but in a different area, than the plantar fasciitis in his left foot that limited him to DH for most of 2013 before he suffered a season-ending tear in late July.

"If it's like this, yeah, I can't" play defense, Pujols said. "For me not to play defense is rare. I don't complain. I play defense. I just can't do it, dude."

Shoemaker said he felt some tightness during the last few batters of Tuesday night's start in Oakland. When he woke up the next day "it was pretty sore and tight, all mixed together," he said. Shoemaker was relieved when an MRI exam showed no major damage.

"Once they told me what was going on, it definitely put my mind at ease," said Shoemaker, who is 7-9 with a 4.31 earned-run average on the season. "Hopefully it will just be a few days. We're just playing it safe."

Right-hander Nick Tropeano will start in Shoemaker's place Monday.

"Shoe has a tremendous amount of pain tolerance, so you knew something must be going on," pitching coach Mike Butcher said. "But his arm felt better today than it did two or three days ago, so he's making progress. It's not all doom and gloom."

Up next

Left-hander Hector Santiago (7-9, 3.37 ERA) will oppose Texas right-hander Colby Lewis (14-7, 4.50) at Angel Stadium on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. TV: FS West; Radio: 830, 1330.

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

Twitter: @MikeDiGiovanna

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