First base remains Pujols' preferred designation
Slugger makes debut in field after consulting Ortiz about handling DH duties
PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Albert Pujols finally returned to his comfort zone on Tuesday, debuting at first base after being relegated to designated hitter for most of Spring Training.
"I'm too young to be a DH," the 33-year-old Pujols said with a big smile -- and the irony here is that it's 27-year-old Mark Trumbo who figures to be the DH on most nights.
"If I have to do it, I have to do it. I just want to be in that lineup and help this organization win."
DH is where Pujols spent his first seven Cactus League games, and aside from that opening interleague series in Cincinnati, DH is where he figures to spend a good chunk of his April.
In anticipation for that, Pujols sought some sage advice earlier this spring.
"I called David Ortiz and tried to ask him about DH-ing, how he handled that, because he's been doing that pretty much his whole career," Pujols said. "So he gave me a couple of pointers. Last year, DH-ing, I was hitting too much in between [at-bats] and I felt like I was wearing myself out."
Pujols wasn't tested at first base in Tuesday's 6-1 loss to the Brewers. At the plate, he was hit by a pitch, got robbed of a potential homer by center fielder Logan Schafer, popped out to second and exited the game after five innings. His right knee, he said, "felt good, just like I was expecting to be."
But Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Pujols has recently been dealing with some plantar fasciitis in his left foot, which crept up on him in parts of 2004, '05 and '06 -- though it didn't cause him to miss any games.
"I don't think it's anything we're concerned about right now," Scioscia said. "The fact that his knee is OK gives us a little more confidence than anything else."
Pujols, batting .318 (7-for-22) with a pair of homers and five RBIs this spring, will probably DH on Wednesday and play the field again against the Rangers on Thursday, marking the first time he's appeared in three straight games.
If Opening Day was tomorrow, Pujols said, "I feel like I'd be ready to go."
Asked if he could have played nine innings on Tuesday, he replied predictably: "Of course."
"But playing nine innings right now is being selfish," Pujols added. "I don't need to play nine innings right now, when there's no need. So, take the rest and play smart when you can, because as soon as the season starts, my goal is to play over 155 games, and that's what I'm going to try to do."
Pujols played in 154 of them last year, en route to batting .285 with 30 homers and 105 RBIs, but hurt his right calf in an Aug. 22 game at Fenway Park, an injury that morphed into a right knee ailment which required arthroscopic surgery.
Pujols missed the next four games and started 24 of his last 33 at DH, posting a .291/.340/.455 slash line in that span. In 144 plate appearances at DH throughout the season, Pujols' line was .246/.299/.433.
Ortiz, who has made a career out of mastering the fine art of producing from the DH spot, told him he was taking way too many swings between at-bats to try to stay loose.
"And I felt it," Pujols said. "I felt like I was getting real sore and real worn out. But it's something that you have to learn. You have to have that experience for you to be better at it."
Pujols' hope is that his knee, and now his foot, recovers to the point where he doesn't have to experience the DH so much.
Unlike last September, his knee hasn't bothered him in the batter's box, which Pujols deems a good sign. He feels he's running at a "pretty good pace" and estimates playing seven or eight more games at first base, before the Angels open up against the Reds under National League rules on April 1.
Shortly after that opening series, Pujols may have to get used to the DH for a little while.
"Definitely it's different, because it's something that your body is not used to," Pujols said. "I've trained my body to be on the field all the time. When you try to teach your body something different, it's tough. I went through it last year."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.