Albert Pujols watches his first home run of spring training leave the yard. (Chris Carlson / Associated…)
TEMPE, Ariz. — With Albert Pujols limping through spring training on a surgically repaired right knee, the Angels talked the Colorado Rockies into approving a courtesy runner for Pujols if he reached base in Saturday's Cactus League contest.
That soon became a moot point, though, because the only time Pujols got past first he could have crawled around the bases after hitting a majestic solo home run in the third inning of the Angels' 8-6 loss.
"I wasn't going to pinch-run for him when he hit the home run. That would have been a little embarrassing," joked bench coach Rob Picciolo, who was filling in for Manager Mike Scioscia.
Scioscia traveled to Philadelphia on Friday for a family funeral, an Angels spokesman said. He is expected back in time for Sunday's exhibition with the Kansas City Royals.
Pujols had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last fall and the Angels have been bringing him along slowly. Saturday's game marked just his second Cactus League start, both as a designated hitter. And he probably won't play the field for another couple of weeks.
"We have a pretty good game plan," Pujols said. "I don't want to rush this thing. I'm taking some ground balls and that's what I needed."
He's also running, coming out of Saturday's game in the seventh inning and retiring to a minor league field where he tested his knee going from first to third for the first time this spring.
Despite the impressive home run, Pujols said his timing at the plate remains a work in progress as well.
"Obviously you always want to have a good spring training. But as long as you get your work, that's the most important thing," he said. "My timing's not there. It will take a couple more weeks to get me where I want to be.
"Usually for me, it's probably the middle of April when I feel really good."
Left-hander Jason Vargas, acquired from Seattle in a December trade, made his second spring start for the Angels. They are the fourth team he has pitched for in the majors, and he said it often takes time to feel fully comfortable in a new clubhouse.
"Relationships will keep building," said Vargas, who gave up four runs and eight hits in three innings. "You're not quite where you would be if you played with them for an extended period of time. So to say that everything's going to be where it's going to be is not the case."
The most important relationship for a pitcher is with his catcher and Vargas said his rapport with Chris Iannetta is still developing as well.
"It would be unfair to say that we're on the same page or we both know exactly what we want to do," Vargas said. "That's just something that builds over time. He's seen me throw and I've seen the way he's called ballgames from the other side. So there's a little idea.
"But the experience of being out on the field together with each other is what really brings the relationship together."