Angels veteran Albert Pujols has showed off plenty of power in his 21st season in the Majors and credited his training regimen and decision to cut back on eating meat in recent years for his success.
Pujols, 41, is batting .224/.278/.448 with five homers and 12 RBIs in 19 games this season, including 15 starts at first base. He wasn't in the lineup for the series finale against the Rangers on Wednesday as a planned day off.
Pujols said he’s felt stronger since completely cutting out meat a few years ago, though he has gradually reintroduced some meat back into his diet while relying more on a fish-based diet. He believes the change helped with his inflammation and energy levels.
“I feel great,” Pujols said. “This is probably the best I’ve felt in a while. I think part of that is the training I put in this offseason. When you're breaking down or feeling injuries, you can be doing nothing at home and feel sore. But you know you're healthy when you're able to train in the gym and move weights. It's something that I continue to do."
Angels manager Joe Maddon has been impressed by Pujols and believes his underrated flexibility has helped him stay on the field in recent years. Pujols has essentially been injury free since a left knee injury ended his season on Aug. 28, 2018.
“He’s very limber,” Maddon said. “When he stretches, he’s very flexible. With his body size, it belies that. You wouldn’t think that. But I’ve seen him put his leg over the rail during batting practice and it’s like, ‘Oh my God.’ I think his longevity is due to that flexibility and pure will. You have to be strong-willed to do what he does and do it for that long.”
Pujols added that with his health he’s added more of a leg kick this season, which has helped unlock more power. With five homers thus far in 2021, he's almost caught up to his total of six home runs in 39 games last year.
"My swing is always there,” Pujols said. “You look at the batting average and you can be discouraged hitting .224 or .226. But I could be hitting .350 with better luck. I've been swinging the bat pretty good even since Day 1 of Spring Training. I think part of it is the attitude and approach I've been taking, but I think being healthy is the key."
Pujols, the only player in Major League history at least with 650 homers and 650 doubles, is closing in on a few more milestones. He currently has 3,251 hits, which ranks 14th all-time, and he could move into the top 10 with 69 more knocks to pass Hall of Famer Paul Molitor. He's also scored 1,852 runs and is 72 away from moving past Derek Jeter and into the Top 10. He remains 29 homers behind Alex Rodriguez (696) for fourth all-time. But he's also proud that he'll pass Brooks Robinson (2,896) for 15th on the all-time games played list with 16 more games.
"It means one thing, and that I’m getting old,” Pujols said with a laugh. “I don’t think about it, but one thing when I was in St. Louis, I was always prideful about it. I’d average like 159 games played. It’s something I’m proud of. It’s something where if I’m healthy, I want to be out there playing. Obviously, injuries over the last seven or eight years haven’t been fun for me, but I’ve found a way to stay on the field.”
Stassi returns, Lagares near
Catcher Max Stassi was activated from the injured list on Wednesday and fellow backstop Anthony Bemboom was optioned to the taxi squad to make room on the roster. Stassi returned to the lineup and hit ninth in his first game action since spraining his left thumb on April 12.
Right fielder Juan Lagares (left calf strain) wasn’t quite ready to be reinstated and he appears more likely to return on Friday for the series opener against the Mariners in Seattle.
“Lagares is real close and it’s great to get Stassi back,” Maddon said. “Lagares is any moment now. But Stassi worked really hard at this. It’s such a sensitive injury. So we’ll be very watchful with that because it’s a tough one for a catcher.”
• Third baseman Anthony Rendon was moved down to fifth in the lineup behind first baseman Jared Walsh on Wednesday. Maddon said the adjustment was not because of Rendon's recent struggles, but alternating right-handed and left-handed bats with the Rangers' lefty heavy bullpen
• Left fielder Justin Upton received a scheduled day of rest like Pujols on Wednesday. Maddon said second baseman David Fletcher and shortstop José Iglesias will be next to receive scheduled off-days in the next week.