Albert Pujols was activated off the disabled list and started at first base Monday night, 10 days after receiving an injection of platelet-rich plasma in a swollen left knee that had bothered the Angels slugger for weeks.
And so began a two-month juggling act for manager Mike Scioscia, who will try to get Pujols and Shohei Ohtani in the lineup together as much as possible while giving Pujols, 38, enough time off his feet to keep him productive. All with only one designated hitter spot at his disposal.
“We’ll be able to manage it,” Scioscia said. “There will be days when Albert DH’s, days when Shohei gets a day off and days when, if Albert needs a day off, it will be there. We’ll look at things on a day-to-day basis and see what lineup makes sense.”
Pujols started 48 games in the field before the All-Star break after being limited by foot injuries to 34 games at first base the previous two seasons. That allowed the Angels to start the left-handed-hitting Ohtani at DH three or four times a week.
The division of DH at-bats was clearer when Ohtani was pitching. The two-way star did not hit on the days before, during and after he pitched, giving Pujols built-in starts at DH. The picture was muddled when Ohtani suffered a June 6 elbow injury that has relegated him to DH since July 3.
Now, there could be days when Scioscia has to choose between Pujols and Ohtani as his DH. Pujols has a .251 average, .720 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 16 homers and 52 RBIs. He hit .429 with four homers and six RBIs in four games before going on the DL.
Ohtani, who homered Monday, has a .256 average, .789 OPS, two home runs and three RBIs in 15 games since his return. He hit .289 with a .907 OPS, six homers and 20 RBIs in 34 games before going on the DL.
Scioscia said Pujols’ down time “got a lot of the inflammation under control, and he’s ready to go.” Pujols said he will be able to play first base as often as he did before the break. “I’ve been doing it all year,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about it.”
One challenge for Scioscia will be determining when Pujols, who rarely yields to injury, needs a day off.
“Albert is gonna play at 30%, he’s never gonna say he can’t,” Scioscia said. “But we’ve given him days off, and I think he understands that, for his benefit, for him to stay at a certain level, it’s necessary at times.”
On second thought
The Angels are giving top infield prospect Luis Rengifo a lengthy look at second base this summer in an effort to cultivate a long-term solution to a position they’ve struggled to fill since Howie Kendrick departed after 2014.
Rengifo, 21, a speedy switch-hitter acquired from Tampa Bay for first baseman C.J. Cron in March, made 65 of 76 starts at Class-A Inland Empire and double-A Mobile this season at shortstop.
After a July 12 promotion to triple-A Salt Lake, Rengifo started six of his first 10 games at second, batting .326 with nine RBIs. In 91 games across three levels, he’s batting .315 with a .902 OPS and has more walks (55) than strikeouts (48).
Johnny Giavotella and Danny Espinosa did little to distinguish themselves at the position from 2015-2017. Ian Kinsler, a standout defender, has been inconsistent on offense this season.
Kinsler ranked first among American League second basemen and Andrelton Simmons (shortstop) and Kole Calhoun (right field) ranked third at their positions in the midseason rankings of the SABR defensive index, which accounts for 25% of the Gold Glove selection process. Detroit’s Jose Iglesias (7.6) and Oakland’s Marcus Semien (7.4) ranked slightly ahead of Simmons (7.0). Justin Upton ranked fourth among AL left fielders, Martin Maldonado was fifth among catchers and Mike Trout was seventh among center fielders. … To make roster room for Pujols and Monday night starter Jaime Barria, pitcher Deck McGuire was optioned to triple-A and reliever Oliver Drake was designated for assignment.