Sluggers Pujols, Holliday arrive at Cardinals camp

For the first time in several springs, Albert Pujols has peace

of mind. Reconstructive elbow surgery no longer hangs over his

head.

Last year’s unanimous NL MVP had a half-dozen bone spurs removed

from his chronically troublesome right elbow during offseason

surgery. When he awoke, doctors told him it was likely he’ll never

have to undergo reconstructive surgery. That had been a possibility

since 2003.

Pre- and postoperative consultation with Dr. James Andrews and

Dr. George Paletta, the team physician, eased any worries.

“I told Dr. Paletta and Dr. Andrews ‘If you go in there and you

see something different from the test, go ahead and get it done,”’

Pujols said Sunday. “They didn’t. It’s good news to hear Dr.

Andrews tell me that probably you will never have to worry about

having the Tommy John (surgery).”

The three-time MVP, however, is getting tired talking about a

contract extension.

Pujols has a year remaining on a seven-year, $100 million

contract, plus the Cardinals have an option for 2011. The

30-year-old Pujols has consistently said there’s no hurry for a new

deal.

“It’s getting to the point that it’s getting irritating to talk

about my contract,” Pujols said. “Let’s wait until something

happens, and then we’re going to have all the answers and you can

throw every question you want.

“As of right now, man, I don’t want to talk about it because

I’m so sick and tired of everybody talking about my contract or

writing about my contract every time,” he said.

Pujols said he’s not about to walk into the offices of chairman

Bill DeWitt Jr. or general manager John Mozeliak to talk about a

contract.

“That’s why I have my agent, and things are going to work

out,” Pujols said.

Pujols and Matt Holliday both hit the field for the first time

on Sunday, two days ahead of the first full-squad workout. That’s

peace of mind for manager Tony La Russa, who joked, “We got better

today, didn’t we?”

Pujols brought his family, including two-week-old son Ezra,

anxious to swap snowy St. Louis for mid-70s temperatures at the

team’s spring training complex in south Florida.

Holliday showed up not to knock off rust but to hit the ground

running.

“I come in ready to get after it,” Holliday said. “The first

at-bat of the first game, I’ll be expecting results. It’s probably

not a good idea but I’m here to compete.”

Both players had sessions with new hitting instructor Mark

McGwire, and were eager to work with the former home run king.

Holliday already had a good idea of McGwire’s approach after he and

fifth-place hitter Ryan Ludwick spent two days with Big Mac in

Austin, Texas, last month.

Pujols was a rookie in 2001, McGwire’s last season, and said he

might have been too shy or too reluctant to invade the veterans’

space that year.

“We talked a little bit about things I did toward the end of

last year, things that I saw in my videotape,” Pujols said. “Now

I’m going to take advantage and talk to him about hitting because I

love that.”

Pujols has been hitting and throwing for six weeks and said the

elbow was 95 percent healed. The elbow has bothered him off and on

since the 2003 season when he was a left fielder and La Russa

instructed shortstop Edgar Renteria to trot out into the outfield

to collect underhand tosses to keep Pujols’ bat in the lineup.

He arrives at camp with no limitations, except to convince

himself not to try to do too much too soon. Talking about the

extension in his swing brings a smile, along with the memory of

what used to be.

“You take six bone spurs almost as big as your pinkie

fingernail and you know, that’s pretty huge,” Pujols said. “Some

of those pieces, I remember Dr. Andrews and Dr. Paletta said ‘I

can’t believe how you swing with these things,’ so I’m pretty

excited.

“I’m going to try to play pain-free and hopefully I’ll stay

like that.”

La Russa guessed that Pujols had “significant pain” in more

than half of his seasons.

“That’s part of his greatness,” La Russa said. “He’s not

oblivious to it but he deals with it.”

Pujols blames himself for being “such a hard head” and

refusing days off. He said his elbow bothered him a lot the first

six weeks last season, but he didn’t want to make any excuses.

After all, he batted .327 and led the NL in homers (47), runs

(124), on-base percentage (.443), slugging percentage (.658) and

intentional walks (44). The homer count is a career best, even

though he had none after Sept. 9.

Bringing up the homer drought remains a surefire way to rile

Pujols.

“If I would have been striking out and hitting ground balls and

popping the ball up, then I’d be concerned,” Pujols said. “But I

don’t recall those things happening.”

Holliday spurred the Cardinals to a runaway NL Central title

after arriving in mid-July, with 55 RBIs and a .353 average in 63

games. He signed a seven-year, $120 million free agent deal in

January, and vowed Sunday that it wouldn’t change his game.

“I have expectations of myself whether I’m making the league

minimum or whatever,” Holliday said. “I expect to do well, that’s

how I look at it.”