Pujols (foot) might open season on DL

Angels slugger expected to be out of action until March

Pujols (foot) might open season on DL

ANAHEIM -- Angels first baseman Albert Pujols recently underwent surgery to alleviate pain near the arch of his right foot and may not be ready by Opening Day.

The procedure took place last week, and Angels general manager Billy Eppler said in a statement Monday that Pujols "is expected to resume full baseball activities in four-and-a-half months." That would have Pujols back around mid to late March, with no more than two weeks to get ready for the April 4 opener against the Cubs.

A source close to Pujols, however, believes it's realistic that he can be back by early March and is indeed ready by Opening Day.

Pujols will be 36 then, entering the fifth season of a 10-year, $240 million contract. The procedure follows arthroscopic right knee surgery in the fall of 2012 and plantar fasciitis throughout the 2013 season, ailments that have significantly hindered the future Hall of Famer since joining the Angels.

Pujols spent the last four weeks of 2015 at designated hitter as a result of this latest foot injury, which he suffered while running down the first-base line in Cleveland on Aug. 28. The ailment caused excruciating, unrelenting pain over the season's final month, even without putting any weight on it. It limited Pujols' ability to run and hardly allowed him to pivot his back foot in the batter's box.

Speaking two weeks before the regular-season finale, Pujols felt the pain would subside over time, "just by getting off my feet." He rested for two to three weeks in October, but it never felt better. That prompted a visit with Dr. Robert Anderson in Charlotte, N.C. Anderson, one of the nation's leading orthopedic surgeons, advised Pujols that surgery was the only route to a full recovery.

Pujols recovered from an early-season slump in 2012 to finish his first season in Southern California with a .285 batting average, 30 home runs and 105 RBIs. But he underwent surgery on his right knee the ensuing October, then dealt with an aggressive case of plantar fasciitis in his left foot throughout 2013, causing him to miss the season's final two months.

Pujols pretty much stayed healthy in 2014, batting .272 with 28 home runs and 105 RBIs, then returned to the All-Star Game on the strength of a monster June in 2015. But his numbers regressed shortly after the All-Star break, and the pain in his right foot couldn't keep them from plummeting down the stretch.

"There's some days that I feel really good, and then there's some days when I hit a wall," Pujols said on Sept. 22. "And it's uncomfortable. It's right on the bottom, right on the freaking toe right here, like in my middle toe. It hurts."

Pujols batted .224 with five home runs while relegated to DH over the final 28 regular-season games. He finished with 40 home runs, his highest total in five years, but he also sported a career-low .244 batting average and .307 on-base percentage.

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With his Angels in a fight for a postseason spot -- ultimately getting eliminated on the final day -- Pujols refused to sit, a decision that might have led to the surgery.

"I would never go to bed and lay my head on the pillow, even though I'm limping, even though I'm hurt, if I shut it down for the rest of the year," Pujols said. "I would never lay my head on the pillow. It would bother me for the rest of my life knowing that I threw in the towel on my team when they needed me the most."

Pujols' surgery repaired the plantar plate, a thick ligament-type structure that sits between the toe bones and the arch of the foot. Surgery is a common course of action when there's a tear. In a statement, Eppler said Pujols' surgery "went very well" and that he would "continue rehabbing in the Kansas City area throughout the winter."

In an ensuing phone conversation, Eppler added that the surgery would not have any impact on the Angels' offseason plans. But C.J. Cron, who hit very well over the last four months and played first base in September, will be counted on heavily.

And Pujols -- a 10-time All-Star, three-time National League MVP and two-time Gold Glove Award winner -- may have to accept more time at DH.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.