Pujols was reinstated to the Cardinals' roster on Tuesday, the first day he was eligible to come off the disabled list, after missing 15 days with a small fracture in the area of his left wrist. He suffered the injury on June 19 in a collision at first base with the Royals' Wilson Betemit.
Pujols was not in the starting lineup against the Reds, and didn't play in the Cardinals' 8-1 victory. Following the game, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said Pujols will play on Wednesday against the Reds.
Left-handed reliever Brian Tallet, who has a right intercostal strain, was placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to Monday, to make room for Pujols.
In a news conference the day after Pujols was hurt, the Cardinals mentioned an expected recovery time of six weeks. The club figured that Pujols' wrist would be in a splint for four weeks, and only after that time could he even begin baseball activities. Instead, he was listed as an available bench player after just over two weeks.
"It's about as good a break as we could catch," La Russa said. "To have him miss two weeks, that's a serious break on our behalf."
The three-time National League Most Valuable Player has been participating in baseball-related activities for about a week. He began hitting eight days ago on June 27, and took batting practice on the field for the first time before Tuesday's game.
Pujols has been on the disabled list three times in the Major Leagues, and each time he has returned sooner than expected. Still, it's never been quite like this. An injury expected to shelve Pujols for six weeks instead cost him two.
"I feel like if I can play, why should I be on the bench?" Pujols said. "My job is to play baseball. When you do that as a little boy growing up, and get an opportunity to play as a pro and get to the big leagues and do everything that I can to help this ballclub to win, this organization, I feel guilty feeling good and sitting on the bench. If I didn't feel good, I tell you, I'd be the first guy to say, 'You know what? I can't go.'"
Pujols said he has no pain or discomfort in the area of the injury. He ramped up from 30 swings to 80 over the course of the last week. Tuesday represented his most extensive workout since he was placed on the DL.
"I think if I'm worried about it, I wouldn't be activated," Pujols said. "What can I say? If it happens again, there's nothing I can do. But there's nothing in the back of my mind. Because I wouldn't be swinging the bat the way I am."
Both Pujols and La Russa said if there is any worry about a recurrence of the injury, it would be on the defensive side of things, rather than when Pujols is batting. He said he has gone through all manner of swinging and experienced no difficulties. Pujols will have his wrist thoroughly taped at all times during games, and will wear some extra support when he is on the bases to protect him in case of a risky slide.
The question still remains how Pujols will hit upon returning to active duty. He began the season slowly, but came on in the weeks before his injury.
"It's hard to tell," he said. "The [other times] I was on the DL, in '06 and '08, I came off and got [hot] real quick. It's hard to tell. It just depends how quick you can get your timing. But I think the main thing is not to try to go out there and try to do too much. Just let the ball get deep, knowing that the pitchers right now have a little bit of advantage over you, because I haven't seen live pitching for two weeks."
Pujols should slot right back into his customary place in the No. 3 spot in the St. Louis batting order starting Wednesday, deepening an impressive lineup. The Cards still have five players on the DL, and yet arguably they are now the healthiest they've been all year. Moreover, catcher Gerald Laird is slated to begin a Minor League rehabilitation assignment this week, and reliever Eduardo Sanchez should return within a week or so.
That would leave only Tallet, infielder/outfielder Allen Craig and starting pitcher Adam Wainwright still on the disabled list. Wainwright will miss the entire season due to elbow surgery, while Craig is progressing in his recovery from a fracture in his right kneecap.
The Cardinals went 6-7 in Pujols' absence. They scored 51 runs in that span, down nearly a full run per game from their average before Pujols was shelved.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.