Scioscia plans off-days to keep Pujols healthy

Scioscia plans off-days to keep Pujols healthy

ANAHEIM -- When Albert Pujols started heating up and hitting homers in May and June, the common observation was how much healthier he was -- specifically, his lower half -- compared to his previous season with the Angels. That's still true, and manager Mike Scioscia is trying to give Pujols enough days off his feet to keep it that way.

"With Albert, I think there's a definite parallel between the strength in his legs and his foundation and his production, and you want to make sure that stays there," Scioscia said. "I think he's at a higher level physically right now than we've seen since he's been here. But like any player, when you get this many games under your belt and this many at-bats under your belt, there's wear and tear on every player out there. Certainly Albert's no different."

Pujols has played in 115 of the Angels' 119 games and recorded 485 plate appearances in 2015. He was out of the starting lineup for Wednesday's game against the White Sox -- a routine "recharge day," Scioscia said, Pujols' second in this month -- despite the veteran slugger hitting three home runs in the last four days.

With Pujols' bat being as valuable as it is to the Angels, starts at designated hitter instead of first base have been more common than full off-days; Pujols has been the Angels' DH 27 times, at fairly regular intervals. He doesn't put nine innings of fielding wear on his legs, and the Angels don't lose his bat in the middle of their order. Occasionally, when the score has permitted it, the Angels have also taken Pujols out of games early.

"I don't think it's ever easy for Albert to have a day off," Scioscia said. "I don't think it's ever easy to give Mike [Trout] a day off when he can't play, or Kole [Calhoun], or whoever the core guys are on our team."

Still, maintenance days are a necessary part of the Angels' plan to stay healthy as they push for a playoff spot.

"There comes a point when you're possibly putting players at risk to go out there. It's a sensitive time of the season right now," Scioscia said. "Every at-bat's going to be magnified as you get down through this pennant race. You can't start that spring too early by grinding guys, or you're out of gas."

Worth noting

• Right-hander Nick Tropeano will be recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake to start Thursday's series finale against Chicago in Matt Shoemaker's slot. Shoemaker was optioned to Triple-A on Sunday. Tropeano, the team's No. 7 prospect, has made two spot-starts for the Angels this year.

• Third baseman David Freese tested his fractured right index finger by throwing from 70 feet -- a significant step forward from the past several days, when Freese was only able to lightly toss to keep his arm activated, without putting pressure on his finger.

"We hope he broke through a plateau," Scioscia said. "He's not at a level where he needs to be to go out there and play or get excited about him where he can go play defense and get close [to returning], but this is the best he's thrown since the injury and that's encouraging. … The pain has diminished significantly when he's throwing."

David Adler is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @_dadler. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.