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Pujols healthy and strong ahead of 20th season

@RhettBollinger
February 20, 2020

TEMPE, Ariz. -- In an effort to keep Albert Pujols healthy, the Angels came up with a plan last season to limit him to playing a maximum of three days in a row at first base. It worked out just as they hoped, as Pujols never missed time with an

TEMPE, Ariz. -- In an effort to keep Albert Pujols healthy, the Angels came up with a plan last season to limit him to playing a maximum of three days in a row at first base.

It worked out just as they hoped, as Pujols never missed time with an injury and hit .244/.305/.430 with 23 homers, 22 doubles and 93 RBIs in 131 games, including 98 starts at first base. It was his most games starting at the position since 2014, while he also drove in 29 more runs than he did in 2018. Pujols was also able to have a normal offseason without any surgeries and said he’s looking forward to another healthy season in 2020, the 40-year-old’s 20th year in the Majors.

"It's good not to have to rehab or worry about your injuries," Pujols said. “It allows you to get strong and feel good heading into Spring Training. I’m excited.”

Pujols -- the only Major Leaguer to reach 650 career homers and 650 career doubles -- remains under contract with the Angels through the 2021 season, earning $29 million this year and $30 million next year. But since joining the club in 2012 on his 10-year deal, the Angels have made the postseason once, getting swept by the Royals in the '14 AL Division Series.

Pujols, though, believes this club is built to contend, especially after it signed third baseman Anthony Rendon to a seven-year deal worth $245 million and hired veteran skipper Joe Maddon as manager. Shohei Ohtani will also return to two-way status by mid-May, while Pujols also liked the additions of Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran to the rotation as well as catcher Jason Castro.

"It’s pretty awesome, and it’s not just Joe, I think all the new players we got this year and the coaching staff is unbelievable," Pujols said. "I’m pretty excited. Anthony is probably one of the top five players in the game. To be able to have a huge bat like that in your lineup, and not just that but the defense that he brings and the experience as a veteran guy, I think it’s always a plus. I think all around, you look at it and I think this is probably one of the best teams that we have had since I’ve been here.”

Maddon has made it a point to get to know Pujols better and even attended his 15th annual Pujols Family Foundation event on Dec. 7 in St. Louis. Maddon has long respected what Pujols brings both outside and inside the clubhouse and is excited for the chance to manage the veteran, who is a former three-time NL MVP and 10-time All-Star.

“He does his work specifically and beautifully, whether it's out there on defense or in the cage,” Maddon said. “He's so committed to his craft. The true value to me is as an example as much as anything. How does Albert Pujols go about his business? If I'm a young guy coming up and I get to watch that, daily? That to me is really the greatest value that anybody can receive.”

Maddon added that he plans to sit down with Pujols closer to the season to formulate the exact plan for his playing time this year. Tommy La Stella could see some time at first base this year as well as youngsters Matt Thaiss and Jared Walsh. Ohtani will again be the regular designated hitter but might not be in the lineup on the days before and after his starts on the mound.

Pujols, though, said he’ll be ready for whatever Maddon has for him, as he’s feeling fresh after spending the offseason working out with Angels head strength and conditioning coordinator Lee Fiocchi and working with hitting coach Jeremy Reed.

“For me, if I’m healthy I’m going to go out there and try and play and help this team to win,” Pujols said. “That’s my main goal.”

Rhett Bollinger covers the Angels for MLB.com. He previously covered the Twins from 2011-18. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.