Angels first baseman Albert Pujols takes batting practice during spring… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
TEMPE, Ariz. — Albert Pujols has won three most-valuable-player awards and two World Series titles and hit 475 home runs over his illustrious 12-year career, but the Angels slugger still admitted to being “a little bit nervous” before his first at-bat of the spring Tuesday.
“My dad always said if you’re not nervous, you’re not ready,” Pujols joked after grounding out twice and striking out once in a 6-4 Cactus League victory over the Cincinnati Reds in Tempe Diablo Stadium. “I was a bit nervous, but it was good to be back in the dugout and get out there with the guys.”
Pujols is recovering from right-knee surgery and was limited to batting practice, grounders hit right at him and running on a treadmill for the first few weeks of camp. But after he ran wind sprints Saturday and Sunday, the Angels deemed him fit enough to hit in a game, about a week before he was expected to play.
Pujols, who started at designated hitter, hit a broken-bat grounder to third off Reds starter Mike Leake in the first inning and struck out on a full-count slider from hard-throwing left-hander Aroldis Chapman in the fourth. Facing left-hander Carlos Contreras in the sixth, Pujols grounded out to short.
Had Pujols reached base, he would have been pulled for a pinch-runner but allowed to remain in the game to hit, as per an agreement reached between the teams before the game.
“Actually, I saw the ball pretty well, it wasn’t too bad,” Pujols said. “I was a little anxious to be in a game, but it was good to see some live pitching and get three at-bats, and we’ll go from here.”
Tommy Hanson, making his first start in an Angels uniform after his off-season trade from Atlanta, allowed one run and three hits, including Jay Bruce’s solo home run, in two innings. Bruce also hit a solo homer off left-hander Scott Downs in the fourth.
Howie Kendrick lined a solo homer to left off Chapman in the fourth. Peter Bourjos tripled and Luis Rodriguez hit a two-run double to key a five-run seventh for the Angels, who improved to 2-8-2 this spring.
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