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A healthy Albert Pujols gives Angels bonus: Gold Glove-caliber defense

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The benefits of a healthy Albert Pujols shouldn’t just be felt at the plate this season.

Pujols, relegated to designated hitter for 65 of 99 games in an injury-shortened 2013 season, has started nine of 10 games at first base this spring and has already flashed some of the range, hands, reactions and skills that earned him National League Gold Glove Awards with St. Louis in 2006 and 2010.

“I’m really excited and happy with how I’m playing at first base and how I’m moving,” Pujols said. “If you look at my position now, how I’m able to bend down, that was something I wasn’t able to do last year, or even toward the end of 2012. That’s my low position.”

Pujols has made diving stops to his left and right this spring, and he ranged far into foul territory Thursday to catch a popup against the Chicago White Sox. Fully recovered from the partial tear of the plantar fascia in his left foot, Pujols will be able to expand his range by playing farther off the bag this season.

“I had to shorten up my range last year because I wanted to make sure I got to the base [on an infield grounder],” he said. “But now I can be aggressive. I feel good, man. I can’t complain about how everything is going.”

Pujols, who did not travel to Peoria, Ariz., for Friday’s exhibition game against the San Diego Padres, is also finding his timing at the plate, with six hits, including two doubles, in his last 15 at-bats after an 0-for-10 start.

“Remember, I missed 300 at-bats last year -- I’ve never gone this long without seeing live pitching,” said Pujols, who sat out the final two months of 2013. “It seems like my first week, I was a little bit uncomfortable, but I started seeing the ball better, having better at-bats, seeing pitches.”

Manager Mike Scioscia will probably try to pace Pujols by giving him occasional DH days this season, but if Pujols is feeling as good as he is this spring, he could see more action at first base than the Angels originally anticipated.

“I’m a first baseman, not a DH,” Pujols said. “If I’m healthy, I’m going to be playing first base. I’ll probably DH once or twice here and there, but for the most part, I’m expecting myself to play first base.”


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