Kendrys Morales finally returns to Angels' lineup
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP)
After what the Cuban slugger went through to get back to home plate at Angel Stadium, he's not exactly sweating it.
''Being nervous is for kids,'' Morales said with a chuckle.
Although Albert Pujols' debut overshadows everything this weekend in Anaheim, Morales' return from a broken ankle is also cause for celebration. Morales was back in the lineup when Los Angeles hosted the Kansas City Royals on Friday night, batting sixth as their designated hitter in the opener.
''I always had positive thoughts,'' Morales said. ''I always felt that if I worked hard, I could get back to where I needed to be. ... You feel a little bit. You get excited because you've been out for two years, but you've got to control your emotions, because it's going to be a long season.''
Morales hadn't played in the majors since May 29, 2010, when he broke his left ankle while leaping onto home plate to celebrate a game-ending grand slam. After multiple surgeries and setbacks, Morales finally made his comeback in spring training, rejoining his teammates during the exhibition schedule.
With everything going well in Arizona, Angels manager Mike Scioscia saw no reason to delay Morales' comeback. He returned Morales to his lineup immediately, with struggling veteran Bobby Abreu starting the season on the bench.
''He looks as good as ever, really,'' Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said. ''It's been a tough road for him, but he's getting back to where he was, and we need his bat in the lineup. He's an incredible hitter. I hope people didn't forget that.''
How long has Morales been gone? When he got hurt, he was still known as Kendry Morales - a typo in his first name that he never corrected until his involvement in a court case last year around a sports agent accused of stealing more than $300,000 from the slugger.
Morales' recovery dragged on through numerous false starts. He initially thought he could return late in 2010, then was certain he would be ready for opening day last season - but his ankle resisted quick healing, eventually requiring more surgery.
Morales feels close to full strength, although he barely remembers that feeling. He can hit and run the bases with no limitations, and that's all Scioscia needs to know.
''I don't feel exactly like I did,'' Morales said. ''I've just got to keep working, and I feel like I'll keep getting better and better and better.''
Morales is no stranger to struggle. After getting kicked off the Cuban national team for an unclear offense in 2003, he made multiple attempts to escape the island before finally succeeding a year later. The Angels signed him as a free agent, and he worked his way to the majors.
Morales appeared to be right on the verge of stardom when he was injured. He batted .306 with 34 homers and 108 RBIs in 2009 while helping the Angels back to the playoffs, and he was leading the club with 11 homers and 39 RBIs when he got hurt in 2010.
Much has changed at Angel Stadium since he last stepped to the plate. Mark Trumbo emerged as a star last season, leading the Angels in homers and RBIs as a rookie - but both Trumbo and Morales were usurped at first base by the 10-year, $240 million signing of Pujols, the three-time NL MVP.
Morales realizes he won't play much first base with Pujols in town, but seems unconcerned about his role on the Angels. He's grateful for any role at all.
''They're putting a lot of confidence in me, putting me there after a long time,'' Morales said.
Yet even after nearly two years away, opening day is just a game. Morales said his wife and children weren't at Angel Stadium to watch his return: ''They don't like baseball that much.''