DOM@USA: Aybar hammers go-ahead single in the ninth

TEMPE, Ariz. -- In an ideal world, Albert Pujols would've played for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic this spring. But clearly, he needed to be with the Angels to recover from offseason surgery on his right knee. And even if he wanted to take part, Classic officials wouldn't have secured his contract anyway.

"Of course," Pujols said in Spanish when asked if he would've liked to play. "But I don't have any control over that. It's part of the rules; they didn't want to insure me. Besides, they don't need me. They have a great team."

Any team could use Pujols in the No. 3 spot, but the Dominicans have nonetheless advanced to the semifinal round with a 6-0 record. They'll play the Kingdom of the Netherlands on Monday at 6 p.m. PT on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes.

Pujols hasn't been able to watch many games because they've mostly coincided with his schedule at Angels camp, but he was able to take in the Dominican Republic's thrilling win over Team USA, when good friend and teammate Erick Aybar notched the game-winning hit in the ninth.

"He's really happy," said Pujols, who spoke with Aybar on Saturday.

"They have a good team. They're really excited, they're hungry. It's good to see."

Games will start at a more convenient time now that the series has moved to San Francisco, and Pujols intends to watch the Dominicans play the surprising Dutch team.

The Angels' slugger played in 2006, when his native country lost to Cuba in the semis, but recovery from offseason elbow surgery in '09 and knee surgery in '13 has kept him from participating in the last two events.

"The last time [in 09], they didn't play like they wanted to and they lost in the first round," Pujols said. "This year, you see they have more emotion and they want to show they have a great team. They're playing good defense, hitting well, but the best part is their bullpen."

The Dominicans, led by Yankees bench coach Tony Pena, have stars all over the field. But they're stacked in the bullpen, with the likes of Fernando Rodney, Santiago Casilla, Kelvin Herrera and Pedro Strop.

In Pujols' mind, that's the biggest key.

"I remember that was the difference in 2006," he said. "We had good starting pitching, but the bullpen wasn't as good as what they have now. Now it's different. The bullpen is better than their starting pitching - not that their starting pitching is bad, but in the first two rounds, that's the key because you have a pitch count and can't throw more than [65 pitches in the first round and 80 in the second]."

Pujols could make first-base spring debut Tuesday

CWS@LAA: Pujols smacks an RBI single to center field

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Albert Pujols expects to make his first start at first base on Tuesday, when the Angels play the Brewers in Phoenix after an off-day.

The Angels won't utilize the designated hitter that day, playing under National League rules so their starting pitcher (Jason Vargas) can hit for the first time this spring. Playing first base would be Pujols' only chance to get in the lineup, and the Angels slugger said on Sunday morning that his surgically repaired right knee feels good enough to finally do that in a game.

Tuesday is 13 days before the April 1 opener in Cincinnati -- under NL rules, of course.

Pujols has been taking part in defensive drills since basically the start of camp, methodically increasing the intensity while running the bases in workouts for a week. Over his last three starts at DH, Pujols -- batting .353 (6-for-17) with a couple of homers and four RBIs in six Cactus League games -- hasn't needed a "courtesy runner."

Pujols made his seventh start at DH on Sunday against the Padres and may come by the Angels' facility on Monday to work out. And though Tuesday's return to first base isn't set in stone, he feels good about those prospects right now.

Jepsen won't let triceps sideline him for opener

LAA@KC: Jepsen closes the door on the Royals

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Tightness in his right triceps muscle has kept Kevin Jepsen from appearing in a game since March 9, but there's a "zero percent" chance it'll keep him from being ready by Opening Day, the Angels' hard-throwing reliever pronounced on Sunday.

In fact, Jepsen said, he'd be ready to pitch right now if it was the regular season.

But with three Cactus League appearances already under his belt, little prep time required of a one-inning reliever and two weeks of exhibitions remaining, there's little need to rush.

"Maybe it seems serious because I haven't picked up a ball, but at the same time, it's spring," Jepsen said. "If this was during the season, I would never have taken a day off. But we have a little time now, so I'd rather take the time now, when we have it."

Jepsen, the hard-throwing righty who posted a 1.67 ERA in 40 games after coming back up last July, played catch and threw a bullpen session shortly after his most recent outing. Irritation in his triceps muscle prompted him to shut it down recently, but he plans to throw again on Tuesday and is expected to appear in a game shortly thereafter.

Jepsen believes he can pretty much pick up where he left off.

"I've thrown enough, I've thrown in a few games, and I've only taken a couple days off from throwing," he said. "Everything will be right back where it needs to be."

Sisk to undergo Tommy John surgery

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Left-hander Brandon Sisk, acquired as a throw-in from the Royals in exchange for Ervin Santana and most of his salary, is expected to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery within the next couple of weeks.

The 27-year-old Sisk, placed on the 40-man roster last December in order to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, has posted a 2.59 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in 198 appearances in his five-year Minor League career. The Angels were going to buy out Santana's 2013 option for $1 million anyway, so instead they had the Royals absorb $12 million of the $13 million owed to him so they'd at least get a player in return.

Sisk, however, came into camp with a bit of a tender elbow, made just two one-inning appearances and was sent down to Minor League camp last week because he'll be having surgery soon.

Tommy John surgery is usually a 12-month recovery.

Worth noting

• Ryan Madson last threw a bullpen session on Thursday, and he is expected to throw another one -- his third since a Feb. 1 setback in his recovery from Tommy John surgery -- "within the next couple of days," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Sunday. Madson will throw mostly fastballs again, Scioscia added, because he's "got to keep repeating that fastball delivery until that feels good, then he'll mix in his others." The Angels don't expect Madson to appear in any Cactus League games, but are hopeful he can get in some Minor League contests before Spring Training ends.

• The Angels acquired right-handed reliever Mike Cisco from the Phillies on Sunday for "no compensation," even though he posted a 1.80 ERA in 40 appearances in the Minors last year and is said to be healthy. The Phillies had an excess of pitching in Double-A and Triple-A and wanted him to go somewhere he'd have a chance to pitch on a staff. Cisco will work out of the Angels' Minor League camp and is expected to pitch out of the Double-A Arkansas bullpen this season.

• Garrett Richards was stretched out to five innings while pitching in a Minor League game at the Angels' complex Sunday, giving up one run and throwing approximately five innings. Richards is being stretched out this spring, but is likely to end up with one of the vacant bullpen spots. "Whatever role may be on this team this year, I'm prepared to do whatever," Richards said. "I made it clear to them that I don't care what it is, whether it's starting or relieving. I just want to be on the team."