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Angels first baseman Albert Pujols is feeling 'awesome'

Slugger hopes to regain form after suffering from foot problems in 2013. Josh Hamilton won't have an 'accountability partner.'

February 21, 2014|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • Angels first baseman Albert Pujols tosses the ball to first base during a spring training workout Thursday in Tempe, Ariz.
Angels first baseman Albert Pujols tosses the ball to first base during… (Rick Scuteri / Associated…)

TEMPE, Ariz. — It's far too early to determine how Albert Pujols will rebound from a subpar season that was cut short by a left-foot injury, but early returns on the slugger are encouraging.

"I feel awesome," said Pujols, who had right-knee surgery after 2012 and suffered a partial tear of the plantar fascia in his left foot last July. "To be able to do things with no pain or discomfort, to have my legs underneath me, to move around and have the load I want in my swing … that's the biggest difference."

The Angels are pacing Pujols in early drills, but they expect him to play first base regularly this season after starting 65 of 99 games at designated hitter in 2013.

They're also confident that, with improved health, Pujols, who hit .258 with 17 homers and 64 runs batted in last season, will regain the form that made him one of baseball's most dangerous hitters in St. Louis.

A .328 hitter with a .420 on-base percentage, .617 slugging percentage, 445 home runs and 1,329 runs batted in for the Cardinals from 2001 to 2011, Pujols has a .275/.338/.485 slash line with 47 homers and 169 RBIs in two seasons in Anaheim.

"You use your legs to hit," Pujols, 34, said. "I'm not a guy who lunges at the ball. I have a unique stance and a lot of torque in my lower half. When your lower half is not working, you're not able to do the things you need to do to hit."

Pujols wants to play 150-160 games this season, and from what the Angels have seen in the first week of camp, that goal is attainable.

"Albert looks great taking ground balls, and he has a nice gait as far as moving around," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "His legs look strong."

Cutting back

Josh Hamilton, whose cocaine and alcohol addiction led to a three-year suspension from baseball from 2003 to 2005, will not have a full-time "accountability partner" this season. Shayne Kelley filled that role in 2013, traveling with the Angels and dressing in uniform for batting practice.

Hamilton's wife, Katie, and four daughters live with him in Arizona for spring training and in Anaheim during the regular season. Boyd Bassham, a friend from his church in Texas, will accompany Hamilton on road trips and handle his meal money, but he will not be in uniform or in the clubhouse.

"It was time for a change," Hamilton, 32, said. "When my family is with me, that's my accountability. We talked to Major League Baseball, the Angels, and everyone's on board with it. It's a growth thing. I understand my responsibilities and know what I need to do when I'm here."

Mute button

If Ian Stewart doesn't win a bench spot this spring, the 29-year-old corner infielder probably will keep his feelings about it to himself.

Stewart was suspended for 10 games without pay by the Chicago Cubs last season for going on a Twitter rant about his reduced role.

Stewart was released June 26 and signed with the Dodgers but spent the season in the minor leagues, batting .171 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 67 games. He signed a minor league deal with the Angels in January.

"I learned that some things are better left unsaid. That's kind of a cliche, but it does apply," Stewart said. "Last year was tough. It started with an injury in camp, then it snowballed from there. It was a year I'd like to forget."

Stewart no longer posts on Twitter but has an anonymous account to follow fantasy football news.

"I actually enjoyed it because I liked interacting with fans," Stewart said. "When I was growing up, I used to write to players and thought it was so cool when I got an autograph back. Now you can have direct access to people on Twitter. I know the fans enjoy it, but players aren't always comfortable with it."

Twitter: @MikeDiGiovanna

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