TEMPE, Ariz. — Albert Pujols is slim, trim and ready to dust off his first-baseman’s mitt.
The 38-year-old former MVP is looking to reverse a downward-trending career, in part by contributing more in the field now that he has shaken off injuries. The Los Angeles Angels are hoping Pujols can share the designated hitter’s role with rookie Shohei Ohtani.
Pujols said he shed 13 to 15 pounds, and he looks in noticeably better shape — though he won’t say how much he weighs. That’s between him and his trainers, he said. Unlike the previous two winters when he was limited because of foot surgeries, Pujols was able to work out this offseason.
“It’s good to have a normal offseason where I don’t have to go to physical therapy. Just get yourself in a gym and get yourself ready for spring training,” he said Friday. “I’m in better shape for sure.”
Pujols has four more seasons left on a 10-year deal the Angels gave him to lure him away from St. Louis as a free agent. He is set to make $27 million in 2018.
Last season, Pujols was the designated hitter in 142 games and played first in six games. In 2016, he was the DH in 123 games and played 28 at first. He said playing more at first “would be great. But that wasn’t my motivation. My main thing was I’m healthy. I want to get back to my workouts.”
The slugger said he focused on flexibility and agility more than on lifting substantial amounts of weight.
Manager Mike Scioscia declined to put a number on how many games he envisions Pujols playing at first.
“There’s no doubt he can play first base enough to give us some versatility in some lineups,” Scioscia said. “I know he loves to play first base. We’re a better team when he plays first base. He’s a terrific first baseman.”
Pujols, a 10-time All-Star, sounded a bit irritated when his 2017 season was brought up. He hit 23 homers and had 101 RBIs, but his average was .241 and his OPS was a career-worst .672.
“That was last year. That’s the number you guys focus on [batting average], and you don’t care about anything else,” Pujols said. “”This is a new year for me. I don’t even remember what happened last year.”
Whether the Angels make the postseason is what counts, he said.
“Everybody in this locker room was disappointed that we were so close, but we didn’t get to the postseason. That to me is more important than anything else,” he said.
Pujols also declined to talk about playing with pain in recent years.
“I don’t need to talk about that. Everybody plays with pain. I don’t put excuses on how I’m hitting,” he said.
Pujols lightened up considerably when the subject turned to Ohtani, the Japanese pitcher-hitter. The two took batting practice together in Orange County last week.
“I gave him a couple words of wisdom. I know it’s going to be a little bit different with the language barrier,” Pujols said. “But I told him that he knows how to play baseball. He just needs to go out and play.
“Hopefully he can do great on both sides, because if he can help us with his bat, too, it will be awesome because we don’t have many lefties in our starting lineup.”
Pujols is 32 hits shy of 3,000 for his career. “It’s awesome,” he said. “I know it’s there. I’m not going to ignore it, but I don’t play for that. I play to put rings on my fingers, I haven’t had one in seven years. Hopefully, this is the year we can get one.”