Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols has been cleared to start hitting baseballs off a tee, according to a team official, an early milestone in his rehabilitation from November surgery on the plantar plate of his right foot.
Initially, the Angels said Pujols was expected to resume full baseball activities in late March — making it probable that he would begin the regular season on the disabled list. The latest news does not appear to have altered that timetable, but the Angels are pleased with Pujols’ overall progress. They’re also inclined to trust Pujols’ assessment of the way he feels — rather than rely on MRIs or other scans — because of how well the 36-year-old knows his body.
The team’s cautious approach with Pujols might result from his difficult recovery after knee surgery following the 2012 season. He was intent on making it back for Opening Day in 2013 — and did — but his body wasn’t completely ready for the daily rigors of the baseball season. The result was a .767 OPS in 99 games, both career lows.
For now, the Angels are adding depth at first base and designated hitter in case Pujols isn’t ready for Opening Day. They selected Ji-Man Choi in last month’s Rule 5 draft and acquired Jefry Marte from the Detroit Tigers in a Wednesday trade.
Unless general manager Billy Eppler makes additional upgrades, first baseman/designated hitter C.J. Cron (.739 OPS, 16 home runs, 51 RBI last year) will need to assume greater responsibility in the Angels’ lineup — with or without Pujols.