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Albert Pujols battles foot problem but vows to be ready for Angels' opening day

First baseman has plantar fasciitis in left foot but still plays first base Tuesday and says that his right knee is pretty much recovered from surgery.

March 19, 2013|By Mike DiGiovanna

PHOENIX — His surgically repaired right knee feels so good that Albert Pujols declared himself fit to play first base in the April 1 season opener at Cincinnati, even though he didn't make his spring debut in the field until Tuesday.

"I'll be ready to go opening day," Pujols said after playing five innings of the Angels' 6-1 exhibition loss to Milwaukee in Maryvale Park. "I could play nine innings right now."

But after the game, Manager Mike Scioscia revealed that Pujols has been suffering from plantar fasciitis in his left foot, an inflammation of the thick tissue on the bottom of the foot that can be quite bothersome — especially for larger athletes — and linger for weeks.

"The foot is giving him more trouble right now than the knee," Scioscia said. "But the fact that his knee is OK gives us more comfort than anything else."

Pujols played with plantar fasciitis for parts of the 2004, 2005 and 2006 seasons. He never went on the disabled list because of the condition, and he hit .330 while averaging 45 home runs and 125 runs batted in during those seasons.

Though Pujols did not field any grounders in the game, he took an aggressive infield practice Tuesday morning.

"He's moving to the bag well," Scioscia said. "He's a terrific first baseman, and he's not that far from where he needs to be."

As much as Pujols prides himself on playing defense, he knows he'll spend more time, especially early in the season, at designated hitter. So he phoned Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz this spring for some DH tips.

"I'm too young to be a DH, but if I have to do it, I'll do it," Pujols, 33, said. "I just want to be in the lineup and help the team win."

Ryan Madson suffers a setback

Ryan Madson's return from Tommy John surgery hit a minor snag when the reliever experienced tightness in his elbow after Thursday's bullpen session, a setback that prompted the right-hander to change his rehabilitation program to meet the more rigorous demands of throwing off a mound.

Madson, who has thrown off a mound only twice since Feb. 1, played long toss Tuesday, and should return to the mound "in the next day or two," Scioscia said.

The former Philadelphia closer, who was shut down for several weeks in February and March, will open the season on the disabled list.

"I definitely feel a lot stronger than I did when I was throwing in January," Madson said. "The elbow is strong, more healthy. The intensity level is where I've run into problems. It's tightened up a little bit after the bullpens, and we're trying to figure out why."

Scioscia called Madson's setback a "normal part of the progression" for a player in the final stages of rehab.

Playing catch-up

Veteran catcher Chris Snyder, who joined the Angels after signing a minor league deal Monday, began a two-week crash course to learn a new pitching staff. He caught several bullpen workouts and the final two innings of Tuesday's game.

"It's definitely a lot of work to do in a small amount of time," Snyder said.

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

Twitter: @MikeDiGiovanna

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