Albert Pujols didn’t drop the dreaded “best-shape-of-my-life” cliché upon arriving for spring training Friday, but the Angels first baseman is clearly in the best shape he’s been since 2013.
Free from the shackles of physical therapy for the first time in four offseasons, the 38-year-old slugger said he lost 13 to 15 pounds with the help of a new winter workout regimen, and he looks much leaner than he did at the end of 2017.
For Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani to start at designated hitter two or three times a week, Pujols, who was limited by foot injuries to a combined 34 games at first base in 2016 and 2017, must play the field two or three times a week. He appears physically ready for that, and more.
“I’m in better shape, for sure,” Pujols said. “It was good to have a normal offseason where you don’t have to go to physical therapy, just get yourself into the gym and get yourself ready for spring training.”
Pujols, listed at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds last season, wouldn’t reveal his reporting weight.
“That’s not for you guys, the media or the fans,” he said. “It’s just between me and my trainers, that’s it.”
Pujols spent the winter after the 2013 season recovering from a torn plantar fascia in his left foot, and the next three winters recovering from surgeries on both feet.
There were no physical limitations this winter. Pujols remained in Orange County and worked out at Proactive Sports Performance in Santa Ana, where he focused more on agility and flexibility instead of the “old-school” heavy lifting.
“They introduced me to a different workout that I never had,” Pujols said. “You get some strength in there, but before, I spent two to two and a half hours in the gym. Now, I take care of everything in an hour and a half. You burn more calories and are able to hit the goal you want to hit. I feel great.”
Pujols has averaged 30 homers and 105 RBIs for the five full seasons he’s had in Anaheim. He surpassed the 600-homer mark last season and enters 2018 needing 32 hits to reach 3,000.
But he had a career-low .672 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 2017, when he fought through nagging lower-body injuries.
“Everybody plays with pain, not just me,” Pujols said. “I don’t make excuses.”
It would be a stretch to think Pujols could produce an OPS near his career .947 mark, but a stronger foundation supporting a leaner frame can’t hurt.
“Albert performed at the plate, but like any hitter who drives the ball, you’re sensitive to how your legs feel,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “But Albert looks great. He worked out very hard this winter.”
A healthier Pujols, who won two Gold Glove Awards with St. Louis, could improve the Angels defensively.
“There’s no doubt he can play first base enough to give us some versatility in the lineup,” Scioscia said. “He’s a terrific first baseman. We’re a better team when he plays first base.”
Pujols is entering the seventh year of a 10-year, $240-million contract that pays him $27 million this season. He’ll receive a $3-million bonus with his 3,000th hit.
“I know it’s there, I’m not going to ignore it, but I don’t really play for that,” Pujols said. “At the end of my career, I’ll be able to look back and enjoy it a little more than now because I’m still playing. It’s hard for me because this is not why I play. I play to put rings on my fingers, and I haven’t had one in seven years. Hopefully this is the year that we can get one.”
John Lamb, a left-hander who signed a minor league deal in January, spends about five minutes each morning waddling around the clubhouse in a pair of Birkenstock sandals with sliced-in-half lacrosse balls glued to the soles.
It’s an awkward exercise, so Scioscia ordered Lamb to demonstrate his peculiar podiatry for teammates in a morning meeting.
“There have been case studies that they help activate your glutes,” said Lamb, who underwent two back surgeries in 2016. “With my back issues, it was something I thought was worth trying.”
An Orange County physical therapist recommended the European-made sandals over the winter, and Lamb has been using them three times a day.
“It’s all about trying to stabilize the pelvis,” Lamb said. “It’s a balance thing.”
Lamb, a Laguna Hills High product who had a lifelong dream of pitching for the Angels, went 2-12 with a 6.17 ERA in 24 starts for the Reds in 2015-16.
After missing last spring because of back issues and serving a 50-game suspension for drug abuse in 2017, Lamb logged 13 starts for triple-A Salt Lake, going 6-3 with a 5.37 ERA. He should provide rotation depth this season.
“It’s been a roller coaster ride, but I feel healthy, my body is in shape, and nothing is holding me back right now,” Lamb said. “I’m putting all the worries aside and just playing.”
Ohtani did not take batting practice Friday. He is scheduled to throw to hitters during a two-inning batting practice session Saturday. … Position players will report on Sunday and the Angels’ first full-squad workout will be Monday.
2:40 p.m.: This article was updated with additional comments from Albert Pujols, reporting about John Lamb’s unique footwear and details about Shohei Ohtani’s schedule.
This article was originally published at 11:40 a.m.