Pujols isn't giving up on returning this season
Angels slugger vows to play when he's able, regardless of standings
ANAHEIM -- Albert Pujols, sporting a walking boot on his severely injured left foot, was in good spirits on Thursday, his first day at Angel Stadium since suffering the partial tear of the left plantar fascia that put the rest of 2013 in serious jeopardy.
The Angels slugger will be cautious with the injury, giving it the proper amount of time to heal, but he was pretty adamant about his goal of returning before the end of the season.
The Angels' place in the standings will not have an impact.
"I was already playing 45 percent this year," Pujols said. "Even if I feel 55 percent that I can come back and play, I'm going to be out there and playing because I love this game and I grew up playing this game and I'm going to do the best I can to help this organization win. Whether that's two games out, 20 games out -- if I feel good, ready to play, I'm going to be out there playing the field."
Pujols will not have surgery on the foot; the tear naturally accomplished what a surgical procedure would have. He expects to be off the boot in three weeks -- around Aug. 20 -- and will take it from there.
"I'll see how I feel [after three weeks]," Pujols said. "But it's still a long way until the season is done, so I don't want to say that I'm done for the season. This is something that I'm going to take day by day. The way I feel right now, with no pain, I can say that I can go out there and play. But I need to put that weight on my heel and that's going to take some time. I feel really good, to tell you the truth. I don't feel any pain at all. I think after that tear, it kind of released the pain, which is good."
The sentiment around the organization is generally that there's little need for Pujols to come back this year. The Angels entered Thursday 11 games back of the final playoff spot in the American League and, barring a comeback with a now-limited roster, they won't be playing any meaningful games in September. The silver lining in that is Pujols -- making $212 million from 2014-21 -- can finish out the regular season rehabbing the foot, then have a normal offseason and be fully healthy for the start of next year.
But Pujols said he "would have a normal offseason no matter what."
He wants to play this year, though he added he's "not going to rush anything. I'm going to let it heal, take the time that the doctor is saying that I have to take."
"I'm certainly not in a position to make that decision," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "That's going to come from Albert and the medical department. We've got great doctors that know what they're doing. Albert is going to get the best advice possible and we're going to take this one step at a time."
Pujols had dealt with spurts of plantar fasciitis throughout his career, but it had never been as severe or prolonged as it was this season. It crept up in March and never went away, prompting him to start 65 of his 99 games at designated hitter, severely impacting his ability to run and sapping his power, limiting him to a .258/.330/.437 slash line with 17 homers and 64 RBIs.
Pujols -- eight homers away from 500 for his career, two RBIs away from 1,500 -- partially tore the connective tissue on the arch of his foot on a ninth-inning, two-out, two-run single off Grant Balfour in Oakland on Friday night.
"That's not the way you want to shut things down," Pujols said. "Obviously that's the chance I knew that I was taking from Day 1. It was really disappointing because I wished it would've happened on the last day of the season."
The next day, he went back to Southern California for an MRI exam that confirmed the partial tear and put his season in jeopardy. And on Monday, he saw a foot specialist who said, in Pujols' words: "Congratulations, you just did the surgery yourself."
Another bit of good news is that Pujols will probably never have to deal with plantar fasciitis on his left foot again (he's never had it in his right one). While in the boot, the 33-year-old can lift weights and do swimming exercises in the pool.
In the meantime, he said: "I'm going to try to be the best cheerleader I can be."
Pujols estimated to playing at "45 percent" this season, and on a scale of 1 to 10 -- with 10 being severe pain and 1 being minimal -- he said he's at 1 now and was playing "at 7 or 8."
Pujols has a pain threshold unlike few others. It was evident this year, and it was crystal clear in 2011, when a wrist injury that carried a 6-8-week recovery only kept him out for 15 days.
Pujols mentioned that on Thursday, and used that as an example for why his 2013 season may not be lost just yet.
"If I'm ready, that's my goal," Pujols said. "But we still have a long way. I still need to do my therapy and my rehab. We'll see how it goes. It's less than a week. Tomorrow will be a week since I did it. It feels really good every day, and it's a process. It's frustrating. Trust me. There's nobody who wants to be out there on the field more than me. That's why I never want to take any time off. I grew up playing the game, and that's what I love to do."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.