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Angels' Albert Pujols downplays not playing first base again

Angels' Albert Pujols downplays not playing first base again
Los Angeles Angels' Albert Pujols, right, talks to Chicago White Sox third base coach Joe McEwing during warm ups before a game against the Chicago White Sox on Thursday. (Alex Gallardo / AP)

Albert Pujols did not play Wednesday night against Chicago. He started at designated hitter Thursday night against the White Sox and was at DH again for the opener of a three-game series against Toronto on Friday night.

That's three straight games that the Angels slugger who prides himself on his defense did not play first base, which would normally raise questions about the health of a 35-year-old who was slowed by knee and foot injuries in 2012 and 2013 and relies heavily on his legs for his power.

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But Pujols, who entered Friday with a .254 average, 33 home runs and 70 runs batted in, insisted he is fine and that his defensive sabbatical was a concession to his age and Manager Mike Scioscia's effort to pace him heading into September.

"I know I'm getting a little older, and if he can give me a little boost to refresh me … it can help," Pujols said. "I have to respect what the manager wants to do. If it was up to me, I'd be out there, but this is not about me, it's about what's best for me and the team in the long run."

Pujols has started 117 of the team's 122 games, 88 at first base and 29 at DH. He started all seven games on last week's trip to Chicago and Kansas City at first. He said he will return to the field Saturday night.

"If I can DH 25-30 times a year and play 157 games, if that's what it's going to take, then that's my job, to be in the lineup and help the team win," Pujols said. "Yes, I can help the team in a different way when I play first base, but you can't worry about that."

Scioscia said before Friday night's game that C.J. Cron, who plays first when Pujols is at DH, has improved significantly as a defender since he was drafted in 2011.

But it was hard to tell in the third inning, when Cron dropped Russell Martin's routine popup for an error, and in the fourth, when he got a glove on but couldn't corral Ben Revere's hard grounder, which was scored a hit.

Even on his good days, Cron is not as polished, reliable or experienced as Pujols. Cron made a great backhand grab and feed to shortstop Erick Aybar to start a game-ending double play Wednesday night but made a bad flip to pitcher Jered Weaver earlier in the game and bobbled a bunt during a five-run fifth inning Thursday.

"C.J. works hard at it, and I think he's vastly improved, but on the defensive side, there's some big shoes to fill with Albert," Scioscia said. "I don't know if you can expect C.J. to do some of the things Albert does."

Pujols has helped Cron with the physical and mental demands of the position, "but like hitting, you have to figure out what you're doing wrong to be able to make adjustments," Pujols said. "I think he'll be a good first baseman. It's a matter of getting time out there and trusting yourself."

Short hops

Third baseman David Freese, out since July 23 because of a broken right index finger, will begin a rehabilitation assignment with triple-A Salt Lake on Sunday after throwing for a third straight day — at 120 feet — on Friday. Freese, who will DH for several games before moving to third base, could rejoin the Angels next weekend in Cleveland. … Johnny Giavotella fell ill and did not start Friday night. The second baseman left the stadium before batting practice, but it was unclear if he was available off the bench.

Twitter: @MikeDiGiovanna

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