Reporting from Phoenix — If they awarded a game ball for Monday's exhibition opener, it would probably go to Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto, who looked like the smartest man in Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
Dipoto's two marquee free-agent additions shined in a 9-1 Cactus League victory over the Oakland Athletics. Albert Pujols had a run-scoring double in the first inning and a single in the second, and C.J. Wilson threw two scoreless innings.
So did the two players Dipoto acquired in trades. Catcher Chris Iannetta crushed a two-run homer in the third and drew a bases-loaded walk in the fourth, and left-hander Brad Mills, a candidate for the fifth rotation spot, threw two scoreless innings with three strikeouts.
"Looking good so far," Angels right fielder Torii Hunter said.
Pujols, who signed a 10-year, $240-million deal, had a chance to do more damage in the third, but the former St. Louis Cardinals star and three-time National League most valuable player flied to right with the bases loaded.
"Believe it or not, I was nervous," Pujols said. "I felt it when I was stretching. It's natural. It's my 13th season, and I still feel it. That means you're getting yourself ready for a game."
The Angels had nine hits and four walks in the first three innings, including Howie Kendrick's two-run homer to center in the second, and Pujols batted in each of the first three frames before exiting after four innings.
"That was fun," Pujols said. "Hopefully, we get to do that a lot."
Wilson gave up one hit and walked one during a 25-pitch stint in which he threw fastballs and changeups. Improving his changeup, which he calls "my worst pitch," is a priority for the former Texas Rangers ace.
"I got a couple outs, swings and misses and foul balls with it today, so results-wise it was good," Wilson said. "If I get one extra out a game with it, one less walk, one more early-count out, it adds up over 162 games."
While the Angels played in Phoenix, slugger Kendrys Morales, sidelined for a year and a half because of a broken left ankle, was in Tempe beginning a crucial week in his recovery.
Morales ran from home to first three times and from first to third three times without touching the bases. He hopes to break out of the batter's box and run the bases by midweek and could begin sliding — on the outfield grass in socks, no spikes — by the weekend.
Barring setbacks, Morales, who in 2009 hit .306 with 34 home runs and 108 runs batted in, could begin playing games by late next week. The ultimate goal is to get Morales into the cleanup spot behind Pujols.
"He has some important hurdles this week," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "You have to be able to run at a certain level, break out of the box and keep a degree of comfort in the ankle to where you can swing the bat. Those hurdles have not been crossed yet."
The fact that Morales is approaching these hurdles has fueled optimism that he will return this season. He did not run the bases at all last spring.
"We're excited about where he is with an understanding that the last 10% a player is trying to get to is sometimes elusive," Scioscia said. "Has our [confidence] soared because of where he is now? I'll say it has gradually increased from January."
Sliding could be a challenge for Morales, who at 6 feet 1 and 235 pounds is not the most graceful or athletic of Angels.
"It's a tough thing to practice without putting a guy at risk," Scioscia said. "We'll have him go through some sort of drill so he can get a comfortable with it."