The sun broke through the clouds on an overcast Thursday afternoon and shined directly into Angels first baseman Albert Pujols’ eyes as he faced his first defensive test of the spring. A baseball had been popped up in foul territory by Dodgers shortstop Daniel Castro; Pujols had to track it.
He caught it easily in front of the Angels’ dugout. The play wasn’t worth making a fuss over, he said.
“I think the only test was that I lost it for a minute because the sun was right in my face,” he said.
Still, Pujols’ defense was worth noting. He had not started at first base for the Angels since late August, before he had season-ending arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. Pujols had been limited to designated hitting through his five spring training starts until Thursday, when he played three innings at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
“He was fine,” manager Brad Ausmus said.
How frequently Pujols can play will always be an issue. He has battled lower-body issues since signing with the Angels in December 2011.
So far this spring, Pujols has bounced back without issue from the knee surgery and the cleanup procedure he had in September that removed a bone spur in his right elbow. He showed up at camp a week early, pleased with his health and optimistic about what he can do in 2019.
Pujols, who has three years and $87 million remaining on his contract, started 70 games at first base last season after being limited by foot and hamstring injuries to a combined 34 starts in the field in 2016 and 2017. He had not played more than 70 games at first since 2015.
The Angels will let Pujols’ health and performance dictate his workload in his 19th major league season. It’s likely he and first baseman Justin Bour, whom the Angels signed in December in part to add a left-handed bat and to provide backup at first base if Pujols couldn’t play there, will share duties at the start. Adjustments to both Pujols and Bour’s playing time will need to be made when two-way player Shohei Ohtani rejoins the lineup as the Angels’ designated hitter, which is expected to be in May.
“[Spring training’s] just about being healthy and doing the things you’re capable of doing and then just try to get myself ready to go,” said Pujols, who will play five innings at first on Sunday at home.