Pujols lands on DL, rest of season in jeopardy
Slugger will miss 'significant' time with foot injury; Calhoun recalled
OAKLAND -- His left foot perpetually ached, barking with nearly every step, and sometimes compensating for it made his surgically repaired right knee swell up. Plantar fasciitis had sapped his power and considerably slowed his trot and made designated hitter his new position, but Albert Pujols played on, almost every single day.
Until it finally became impossible.
Pujols' ninth-inning, two-out, two-run single against Grant Balfour on Friday night might have been his last at-bat of 2013. It led to a partial tear of his left plantar fascia, an MRI confirmed Saturday, and on Sunday the Angels placed Pujols on the disabled list for what manager Mike Scioscia said would be "a significant amount of time."
In all likelihood, he won't return until the start of 2014.
"It's real tough; it's frustrating," said Mike Trout, who will take Pujols' place in the No. 3 spot. "You have a guy like him, fighting all year, trying to help us get back in this thing. He was playing banged up the majority of the year. He's just a good guy to have in the clubhouse, and just not having his presence with the team is tough."
Pujols' recovery from offseason knee surgery was progressing nicely this spring. But then a new problem manifested in mid-March: plantar fasciitis.
He had dealt with it in spurts throughout his career, but this time it was unrelenting. It eventually forced him to make 65 of his 99 starts at designated hitter, made running full speed a tall order and limited him to a .258/.330/.437 slash line, with 17 homers and 64 RBIs.
Many wondered how he even kept playing.
"I don't know if I've ever seen a player that really just wants to go out there and play," Scioscia said, "and wants to do everything he can till the last drop of his body is used up before considering going on the DL, and can really play at a high level at what is maybe 50-60 percent of his health. He still goes out and is productive."
Since the plantar fascia tore naturally, Pujols isn't expected to require the invasive procedure, which requires cutting the band of connective tissue on the arch of the foot to ease tension and relieve inflammation.
Pujols, in a walking boot, will see a foot specialist on Monday and will spend the better part of the next two months rehabbing. Recovery time is usually at least six weeks, which would bleed into mid-September. By that point, though, the Angels -- 13 games out of first place after losing three of four in Oakland -- may not have much to play for and there'd be little sense in rushing Pujols back.
The more likely scenario is that Pujols fully recovers, then has a normal offseason so that the Angels -- paying him $212 million from 2014-21 -- can get their 33-year-old slugger in prime form next year.
"We're going to miss him," Josh Hamilton said. "It's a big hole to fill, and we can't fill it. All you can do is keep battling, send guys out there and have guys pick up the slack as best as they can because you can't replace Albert. It's definitely frustrating."
If this is the end of Pujols' 2013 season, he'll finish it eight homers shy of 500 lifetime and two RBIs shy of 1,500. He had never played fewer than 143 games in his previous 12 years in the big leagues, going on the disabled list only three other times.
Several people who recently spoke to Pujols said the slugger was dejected.
"He was really down," said Erick Aybar, one of Pujols' closest friends on the team, in Spanish. "You couldn't even tell it was him. He really wanted to play. I don't think he'll sleep thinking about this."
To take Pujols' spot on the roster, left-handed-hitting outfielder Kole Calhoun was called up from the Minors, likely forming a platoon in right field with the right-handed-hitting Collin Cowgill, pushing Hamilton to left field and making J.B. Shuck the primary designated hitter, with Mark Trumbo playing first base daily.
Calhoun, who can play all three outfield spots, recovered nicely after missing six weeks with a fractured hamate bone in his right hand early in the season, eventually batting .354 with 12 homers and 49 RBIs for Triple-A Salt Lake. Three of those homers came in one game on Tuesday, and Calhoun was batting .583 over his last 10 games.
"It wasn't a very good start to 2013, that's for sure," said Calhoun, who started in right field and batted eighth on Sunday. "But if you look at it, I guess I kind of got a second chance. I got to start all over, so I just tried to make the most out of the situation."
Pujols has dealt with plantar fasciitis on and off throughout his career, but it's never been this bad. It was never this prolonged, it never affected him this much and it never came close to placing him on the DL.
All those years of playing through it, Pujols believes, had caught up to him.
"That's how it is when you've been playing with something nine years," Pujols told MLB.com prior to Friday's game. "That's what the doctor told me. He said, 'Look, you've been nine or 10 years playing with this, and it gets worse.' It's like if you have an injury in your arm and you keep throwing. What do you think? It's a long year, and it's going to catch up to you. That's what happens."
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.