SAN FRANCISCO — It did not have to end this way.
Instead of coming to town as a bench player for the Dodgers, two organizations removed from the prime of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals, Albert Pujols could be winding down his Hall of Fame career as an icon in St. Louis, one of those legendary players like Derek Jeter or Tony Gwynn who only played for one franchise.
“I made that decision 10 years ago. I don’t think that’s something that I want to think about,” said Pujols who left the Cardinals following the 2011 World Series-winning season to sign a 10-year, $320 million contract with the Angels. “I made the right decision for me. I thought it was the best decision for me and my family and that’s it. There’s nothing to regret. If I could go back and change anything again, I wouldn’t change it. That’s what the Lord had for me and that’s the decision that I made along with my family.”
Pujols has been back to St. Louis as a visiting player just once for an interleague series with the Angels in June 2019. It was a three-day love-in for Pujols featuring standing ovation after standing ovation.
Expect more of the same during the Dodgers’ four-game series with the Cardinals beginning Monday.
“It means a lot. That’s where everything starts for me. Even though I left there 10 years ago, I still have my roots there, my foundation, great people, great fans that became pretty much my family,” Pujols said. “I think I took 13 plate appearances (during the 2019 series) and all 13 plate appearances there was a standing ovation and they were standing until I tipped my cap. That’s something that was really special to me. It ranks up there if not the best moment in my career probably up there one or two including the World Series.”
Pujols won’t say what he expects from this series but Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he plans to start Pujols twice in the four-game series — Tuesday and Thursday against Cardinals left-handers JA Happ and Kwang-Hyun Kim.
Pujols (who has hit .256 with 10 home runs and 34 RBI in 68 games with the Dodgers) has not talked about his plans beyond this season (when that 10-year contract expires). But his relatively successful transition to a bench role with the Dodgers has increased speculation that he is not ready to retire, especially if the universal DH is adopted, creating more potential employers for Pujols to pursue 700 career home runs.
But that Thursday afternoon game in St. Louis could very well be the 41-year-old Pujols’ final bow in the city where his Hall of Fame career began.
“At the end of the day, I want it to be special,” Pujols said. “It was special in 2019 when I went there for the first time and it’s going to be special when we go there tomorrow for the week. I think at the end of the day for me I always try to let these things play out the way that they’re going to play out. I just don’t like to bring distractions on myself. I just try to prepare myself for the game and the things that I have to do.
“Let things play out the way I did in 2019 because at the end of the day you can’t control things. If you start thinking about how things are going to play out and it doesn’t go the way you thought then you’ll be disappointed. I’m just really excited about going back and hopefully we have a good series there.”
POLLOCK TO IL
As expected, the Dodgers placed outfielder AJ Pollock on the Injured List with a strained right hamstring suffered in the first inning of Saturday’s game. Right-hander Mitch White was added to the active roster.
“A couple weeks is probably where we’re at and we’ll pick up from there,” Roberts said. “But I still see him getting back with us this season.
“It’s a blow. Obviously, AJ has been one of our better performers all year long. So to lose out on that player is a big loss.”
Since the start of July, Pollock has been one of the best hitters in the National League with a .335 average, .976 OPS, 10 home runs and 33 RBI. With him out of the outfield mix, Cody Bellinger will once again become an everyday player, Roberts said. He had been platooning against left-handed pitching with right-handed hitters Chris Taylor, Mookie Betts and Pollock.
Bellinger’s miserable season offensively shows no signs of turning around. He carried a .169 average and miserable 51 OPS-plus into Sunday’s game with just two hits in his previous 23 plate appearances.
Roberts said Bellinger will bat eighth in the lineup and be asked to “play great defense, to try to find ways to get on base.”
Both Clayton Kershaw and Danny Duffy threw bullpen sessions Sunday afternoon at Oracle Park.
Kershaw is on track to make a three-inning rehab start for Triple-A Oklahoma City and could rejoin the Dodgers’ starting rotation after that.
Duffy will throw another bullpen session this week, possibly progressing to throwing to hitters in a simulated-game setting after that.
Duffy has been on the IL twice this season with a strained flexor muscle in his throwing arm. He has not pitched in a game since July 16. The Dodgers obtained him at the trade deadline from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for a player to be named later.
Max Scherzer will start Monday’s series opener in St. Louis and Roberts said Julio Urias would start Thursday’s game against the Cardinals. In between, “we don’t know who it is,” Roberts said. White could start Tuesday or Wednesday and Andre Jackson has been in San Francisco with the team on the taxi squad.
Dodgers (RHP Max Scherzer 12-4, 2.40 ERA) at Cardinals (RHP Miles Mikolas 0-1, 4.41 ERA) Monday 1:15 p.m., SportsNet LA, 570 AM