Pujols on track for opener after first game

Angels slugger starts at DH, held hitless in three at-bats

Pujols on track for opener after first game

TEMPE, Ariz. -- There was never much doubt in Albert Pujols' mind: Barring any setbacks with his surgically repaired right foot, he's going to be ready for Opening Day.

Pujols started at designated hitter and went 0-for-3 in his first Spring Training game on Sunday, a 6-1 Royals victory at Tempe Diablo Stadium. More importantly, he didn't feel any pain in the foot.

"I knew I was going to be ready for Opening Day since I showed up to Spring Training," Pujols told reporters after the game. "You guys are the ones that counted me out. I don't really worry about too much of that. So now I just continue to do my workout and continue to pace myself."

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Pujols underwent surgery in November, which put his status for Opening Day in doubt. But results thus far have given every indication Pujols will be in the lineup April 4 vs. the Cubs.

Whether Pujols will be able to play the field by Opening Day is another question. He's partaking in the usual first-base drills, but manager Mike Scioscia said Pujols is "a little ways off" from taking the field in game action. That's fine with Pujols.

"Right now my goal is to be in the game, whether it's first base, DH," Pujols said. "I'm not even thinking about first base. I'm thinking about just trying to stay healthy and hopefully be [at first] for Opening Day."

After Pujols' surgery, Angels doctors estimated his recovery time at about five months. Given his progress, it's evident he's slightly ahead of schedule.

"They gave us a window, and he's certainly at the earlier part of that window," Scioscia said. "We'll see how it goes."

Pujols batted .244/.307/.480 last season with 40 home runs. He looked understandably rusty on Sunday, getting out in front of a couple of hittable pitches, but he made it down the line without any issues -- albeit nowhere near full-speed.

"I felt good at the plate -- I felt like I have good balance," Pujols said. "I felt strong in my leg and no pain at all. Now it's just pacing myself until I get my foot and my leg stronger."

Pujols batted fourth, behind Yunel Escobar, Daniel Nava and Mike Trout. Scioscia acknowledged that Sunday's lineup could very well have been a preview of the club's Opening Day starting nine.

Kole Calhoun -- who spent most of last season toward the top of the order -- batted behind Pujols, where his power could make him a serious run-producing threat. (The four hitters above Calhoun in the order have all proven very proficient in reaching base.)

No matter the precise batting order, Pujols is a fan of the club's composition.

"I think we have a strong lineup, I think we have strong pitching and bullpen," Pujols said. "Probably we have the best pitching this year -- better than the last four years that I've been here, coming into Spring Training. The key is to stay healthy."

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.