Albert Pujols addressed the media for the first time this spring in the Angels clubhouse at Tempe Diablo Stadium on Sunday morning, and he declined to offer much in the way of concrete information about what to expect from his 2019 campaign.
Asked if he could play in early Cactus League games, Pujols said, “I think it’s too soon to talk about it.”
Asked if he could estimate how many games he’d play in 2019, he said, “Wait until we start playing.”
In previous post-surgery years, Pujols’ offseason routine was limited by physical therapy. Rehab prevented him from properly conditioning his body for spring training.
The timing of his latest operations allowed Pujols to avoid delay. He reported to spring training with pitchers and catchers last week a few pounds slimmer. He expects to be available to play, either at first base or as the team’s designated hitter, when the season opens March 28 on the road against the Oakland Athletics.
“We certainly don’t want to overload him here [in Tempe] and have an issue in April or May,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “That’s the game plan. It’s going to evolve as we go, but we’re going to be cautious out of the gate.”
The Angels, as usual, will let Pujols’ health and performance dictate his impact 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.
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.
The last time Pujols was healthy enough to play more than 70 games at first base was when he was an all-star in 2015. He had a .787 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, drove in 95 runs and hit 40 homers in 157 games, 95 of which he started at first base.
Pujols is now three seasons removed from that all-star campaign. He must prove he can be productive both in the field and at the plate again, because adjustments to his and Bour’s playing time will need to be made when two-way player Shohei Ohtani rejoins the lineup as the Angels’ designated hitter as expected in May.
“Anybody that steps on the field for the Angels, we’re asking them to perform and at a certain level,” Ausmus said the first day of spring training. “I know certainly in baseball there are ups and downs. … But our job is to win games. If we feel we can do something to win games, we’ll do it. It’s pretty simple. That applies to everybody and that’s not just Albert Pujols.”
Shohei Ohtani hoping to take next step soon
After spending the last few days watching his teammates throw in the bullpen in an effort to get his timing in the batter’s box down, Ohtani might be ready to move forward with his rehab.
He said he hoped to be cleared by the medical staff to start hitting off a tee sometime in the next week. He began to take swings without a ball about a week ago.
“Still got to take it day by day,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mazuhara on Sunday. “So I can’t give a for-sure answer.”
Ohtani, who had surgery to replace the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow four months ago, said he would spend most of the spring focusing on returning to the field as a hitter. He does not plan to pick up a ball as a pitcher until the end of training camp.