‘Excited’ Pujols ready to fill any role for Dodgers

Albert Pujols wore Dodger Blue for the first time on Monday, holding a virtual press conference 30 miles north of the ballpark where he spent most of these past nine-plus seasons and speaking 11 days after the Los Angeles Angels released him in the last year of his 10-year, $240 million contract.

Pujols, 41, expressed excitement to join the Los Angeles Dodgers, defending World Series champions, and said that he holds “no hard feelings” toward the Angels. He reiterated a desire to continue playing, perhaps even beyond this season, and emphasized his willingness to accept what seems like a significantly limited role with the Dodgers.

“I told them I’m here to do whatever — pinch hit, first base, whatever they want,” Pujols said. “I’m just excited to have this opportunity to wear this uniform and glad to be here.”

When the Angels designated Pujols for assignment on May 6, they stated a desire to make Jared Walsh the everyday first baseman and give Shohei Ohtani the majority of plate appearances at designated hitter. A bench role wasn’t necessarily an option for Pujols because, as Angels president John Carpino said, “He wants to play every day at first base.”

Pujols’ comments contradicted that.

“My goal over the last two years — it was never to try to be an everyday first baseman,” Pujols said. “I told you guys early in spring training — ‘whatever goal they have for me I’m gonna go with.’ I understand they made that decision, as an organization, a business decision, and no hard feelings. I understand that. They had a talk with me, and that was it. Move forward. And I’m just glad to get another opportunity, wear a different uniform.”

Pujols’ arrival comes as the Dodgers continue to weather a long list of injuries, most notably to shortstop Corey Seager, who could miss about two months with the fractured right hand he suffered on Saturday night. The Dodgers’ everyday first baseman, Max Muncy, can also play second base, which might be necessary with Gavin Lux becoming the regular shortstop in Seager’s absence.

That situation played out for Monday’s game against Arizona Diamondbacks lefty Madison Bumgarner, with Muncy starting at second and Pujols playing first base as the cleanup hitter. At full strength, however, the team plans to use Pujols mostly as a late-game pinch hitter, particularly against left-handers, who have given the Dodgers some trouble this season. Pujols has had only 41 career plate appearances as a pinch hitter but is confident he can make the adjustment based on his dialogue with Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations, and manager Dave Roberts.

“Communication is huge with me,” Pujols said. “And that was part of Doc and Andrew’s communication with me. And I think having a game plan of what my role is gonna be in this clubhouse — that’s it. If this is gonna be part of my role, then I’m gonna listen, I’m gonna be ready, and I told them I’d be ready, whether it’s a day that I don’t play, whether it’s a day that I feel that it’s my time to go up there and try to help this ballclub to win. That’s it. I’m really excited. And that’s something that I have embraced really well. I’m enjoying the opportunity and gonna try to have fun.”

Pujols, who began his career with arguably the greatest 10-year run in baseball history for the St. Louis Cardinals, has been a below-average hitter by park-adjusted OPS for the last five years and was batting .198/.250/.372 in 92 plate appearances this season. But he holds an .889 OPS in late-and-close situations and an .878 OPS against lefties in 2021, and his expected .513 slugging percentage suggests he might have also run into some bad luck.

Pujols spent most of these past 11 days working out in hopes of joining another team. The Dodgers reached out to his representation shortly after he cleared waivers and was officially released on Thursday, which prompted a virtual meeting with Friedman and Roberts. Pujols was intrigued by the opportunity to remain in Southern California and the chance to win his third World Series ring, but he also said the Dodgers “had a good game plan for me.”

Seager already wears No. 5 for the Dodgers, so Pujols, who likes the No. 5 because it symbolizes God’s grace in the Christian Bible, will switch to 55.

Pujols ranks fifth in career homers (667), second in RBIs since they became an official stat in 1920 (2,112) and 14th in hits (3,253). He has won three National League MVP awards, two Gold Gloves and six Silver Sluggers and has been invited to 10 All-Star Games — and he doesn’t want to stop playing.

“I feel like I’ve still got some gasoline left in my tank,” Pujols said. “I’m really excited for this opportunity.”

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