Angels’ Albert Pujols proud to have finished strong
Shut down for this season’s final weekend, Albert Pujols reflected Friday on his fifth year as an Angel. He was proud to finish with a .268 average, 31 home runs and 119 runs batted in despite plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
“Obviously I wish I could’ve played in the last five games, but with my foot injury, I also understand that I want to have a healthy off-season,” Pujols said. “I don’t want to do something where I have to have surgery again and not get myself ready for spring training. I played for the last month the way I’m feeling right now, but they really don’t want me to, and I don’t want to fight that. And let’s face it: What does it mean for us?”
Pujols spoke before the Angels’ 7-1 victory over Houston on Friday at Angel Stadium, their 73rd of 2016 in 160 tries. They have not been in playoff contention for months; on Wednesday, after he sat out two starts in pain, they decided to hold Pujols out through the weekend finale.
So, on Thursday, Pujols underwent shock wave therapy on his right arch. The same issue in his left foot forced him to miss the final two months of 2013, and Pujols underwent surgery last off-season on his right foot that made his opening-day readiness uncertain.
“I’m blessed that I was able to be ready on opening day when I was supposed to miss the first two months of the season,” Pujols said. “From that standpoint, this was a great year overall. I wasn’t able to train the way that I wanted to in the off-season. I wasn’t sure if I was gonna be ready for spring training. But I was, and it was a little bit of a challenge. But I was able to finish strong.”
He hit .293 with a .322 on-base percentage and .510 slugging percentage in the second half while the foot pain flared up because of an issue with brand-new orthotics.
“I didn’t walk as much because I was getting a lot of hits,” Pujols said. “To go from hitting .239 at the All-Star break to finish the season .268, that’s a lot of hits. I feel like I got in a groove right after the All-Star break. I’ll be expecting that out of myself all next year.”
Pujols will be 37 when he reports to spring training. He is owed $140 million for the next five seasons. Conventional wisdom says he will only decline from here. But Pujols thinks both he and the team can improve. He said they did not contend this season primarily because of the season-ending elbow injuries suffered by pitchers Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano.
“Let’s face it, bro: Look at the top of our rotation,” Pujols said. “When you lose three guys in your rotation, that’s hard, because those are the guys you count on. Those are tough guys to replace. To be able to overcome that, you have to have, like, a freakin’ All-Star team. But I think we have the core here. We’re gonna have a better year next year, hopefully.”
Pujols made a career-low 28 starts at first base this season. He envisions playing more first base next year, but acknowledged he has little control over whether he will be capable.
“You listen to your body. Well, sometimes I don’t listen too much,” he said. “I want to be out there. When I can take a day off to help me out, I don’t really listen.”
Asked whether he anticipated ever learning to heed his aging frame’s desires, Pujols said he cannot imagine doing so. During his rise to fame in St. Louis, he played with so many veterans who regularly fought through injuries that it became his own predilection.
“It’s hard for me now to try to switch that, because that’s how I grew up,” he said. “It’s just hard for me, because I feel like when my team needs me I want to be out there.”
But, now, the prospect of a fully healthy season is impossible to imagine. He can only learn to cope with the future pain that is virtually guaranteed.
“Maybe if I would’ve taken care of my body back then,” he said Friday, as his voice trailed off.
Rookie right-hander Daniel Wright recorded the victory Friday for the Angels with six innings of one-run baseball. He received the win, and the Angels set a new American League record with 24 winning pitchers in one season. … Left-hander Tyler Skaggs will start Saturday for the Angels and conclude his season. He missed three starts because of soreness in his forearm that was eventually diagnosed as a flexor-pronator strain. Skaggs returned in July after August 2014 Tommy John surgery.
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura
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