ST. LOUIS — Watch Albert Pujols run and you don’t need to be a podiatrist to see that his legs aren’t right. His discomfort is that noticeable.
But watch him hit and his foot ailments aren’t so obvious — unless you’re a veteran scout who has been watching Pujols for the past 13 years. Then you can begin to see why Pujols is hitting only .247, 74 points below his career batting average.
When Pujols is right, he uses his front foot as a pivot, “like a hinge,” the scout says. He rotates his front foot as a pitch approaches and his weight is shifting. He doesn’t typically lift his front foot off the ground.
But if you watched the Cardinals-Angels game Tuesday night, you might have noticed that Pujols actually lifted his front foot on some swings. This likely is to avoid the discomfort he feels when he pivots on his front foot.
The lifting of his front leg, however, also reduces his ability to hit as effectively.
“It creates a balance problem,” the scout says.
One of Pujols’ greatest strengths as a hitter always has been his ability to maintain his balance, which is easier to do when both feet stay on the ground.
But lift that front foot and Pujols’ balance is affected ever so slightly, but that’s all it takes to turn a line drive into a popup.
Pujols can take one positive from realizing his hitting struggles can be attributed to his foot problems. That means, at least, his bat speed hasn’t become an issue. Our scout doesn’t believe Pujols has lost any bat speed, or at least not enough to hurt him as a hitter.
If Pujols can get his legs right, he should be able to better drive the ball. Of course, there’s always a chance he might never get his legs quite right. Pujols, 33, has been battling plantar fasciitis for years, but not so early in the season.
He is unlikely to get any relief from the painful condition, either, as long as he continues to play every day.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at email@example.com.