Pujols easily pops back into form

Pujols easily pops back into form

JUPITER, Fla. -- Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols had not played in almost a week, missing five games because of what he described as lower back spasms. He looked in mid-season form Saturday, however.

The reigning National League MVP cranked out a single and double in his first two at-bats, then drew a walk in his third trip to the plate Saturday before leaving the game in the Redbirds' 8-5 Grapefruit League win against the visiting Astros on a sun-drenched but windy afternoon at Roger Dean Stadium.

Pujols ripped a single to center on the first pitch he saw from Astros starter Felipe Paulino and easily legged out a double his next at-bat in the third inning.

"The first pitch was down and away, and I got to the ball," Pujols said. "A slider inside and I got to it. I put in some good swings and it didn't bother me at all. My third at-bat, I got a high fast one and put a swing on it, so if anything was going to happen I think it would have happened then."

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was genuinely amazed at the way Pujols performed after not being able to practice or play for almost a week.

"Ridiculous," La Russa said. "You can't do that unless you're a great player."

Pujols said his back was bothering him when he woke up last Sunday after playing the day before, and he decided to be cautious.

2010 Spring Training - null
Sights & Sounds
Spring Training Info

"I didn't want to push it," said Pujols, who likely will not make the trip to Viera, Fla., on Sunday for the Cardinals' game against the Nationals. "I definitely could have gone out there and played [this week]. If it was in the World Series, I think I would have done it, but not in Spring Training. I don't want to take something like this into the season and be bothering me the rest of the year."

Meanwhile, Chris Carpenter was satisfied with his second outing this spring.

Carpenter gave up a home run, four hits and a walk and he hit a batter during his three innings of work, but the ace right-hander also struck out five Astros batters and was pleased overall.

"I definitely felt better today than I did the last time, and that's what I'm looking for," Carpenter said, adding that the wind had an effect on his pitches at times. "I don't know anywhere I've ever played at in 30-mph winds. It's not something that happens during the year. ... My curveball was at times good, and at times bad. But I felt like my command was better, I felt like my breaking ball was better, I got my pitch count up and I definitely felt more comfortable in my delivery on the mound."

Steve Dorsey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.