Kendrys Morales returns to lineup: ‘Being nervous is for kids’

With all Kendrys Morales has endured these past 22 months — a devastating ankle injury, two major surgeries, endless hours of physical therapy, 1 1/2 seasons missed — he wasn’t about to get worked up over a little baseball game Friday night, even if it was the season opener.

“I don’t think I’ll be nervous,” Morales, speaking through a translator, said before the Angels played the Royals. “Being nervous is for kids.”

Morales batted sixth as the designated hitter (he finished with a single), his first regular-season appearance since that fateful afternoon in Angel Stadium on May 29, 2010, when he fractured his left ankle jumping into home plate in celebration of a walk-off grand slam.

Though his recovery was long and arduous and hit several low points, including a failed attempt to come back in the spring of 2011 and a second season-ending operation last May, Morales never lost faith that Friday night would come.

“I always had positive thoughts,” Morales said. “I always felt that if I worked hard, I could get back to where I need to be.”

Despite an impressive spring in which he hit .367 (11 for 30) with two home runs in 13 games, Morales is not quite all the way back to where he was in 2009, when he hit .306 with 34 homers and 108 runs batted in, or at the start of 2010.

“I don’t feel exactly like I did going into 2010,” the switch-hitter said, “but I think I can get there if I keep working hard every day.”

Speed was never a strength for the 6-foot-1, 242-pound Morales, and he looks even slower now than he did in 2010. But Manager Mike Scioscia believes Morales has regained enough of his stroke that he will bat him cleanup behind Albert Pujols against right-handed pitchers.

“They’re showing a lot of confidence in me to put me there considering the amount of time I’ve missed,” Morales said. “It’s pushing me a little harder.”

Taking the fifth

Jerome Williams and Garrett Richards are making the decision for the fifth rotation spot difficult for the Angels, who will need another starter for an April 15 game in Yankee Stadium.

Williams, slowed this spring by a left hamstring strain, threw five innings and 76 pitches for Class-A Inland Empire on Thursday, allowing two runs and five hits, striking out four and walking two. Richards allowed two runs and four hits and struck out seven with no walks for triple-A Salt Lake on Thursday.

“All I can do is pitch well,” said Williams, who will make another Class-A start Tuesday. “I have one more tuneup, and hopefully I’ll be there on April 15.”

No deal for Aybar yet

The Angels and shortstop Erick Aybar, in talks about a contract extension since early January, still haven’t reached an agreement, but Aybar has instructed his agent to continue negotiations during the season.

“It’s not a distraction,” said Aybar, who is eligible for free agency after the season. “I want to stay here, and I’m hoping [a deal] gets done. If not, I’m signed for this year, and I have to work hard, put up my numbers and help the team win.”