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.''