ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols was in high spirits on Monday as he continues to recover from a fractured left wrist faster than originally expected, with a possibility he could return to the lineup as early as Tuesday.
Pujols took ground balls at first base prior to the Cardinals series-opener with the Reds. The three-time National League MVP also took cuts against a pitching machine and said he's been swinging a bat for almost a week at full strength.
Pujols, who fractured his wrist on a collision at first base on June 19 against the Royals, has been on the 15-day disabled list since June 20 and was initially expected to be out for at least four weeks. While Pujols was coy about his imminent return, saying he still had four weeks to go, he didn't rule out the possibility of suiting up on Tuesday, the first day he is eligible to come off the DL.
"It can be tomorrow," Pujols said on Monday. "If it's not, then whenever the time comes, it will be the right time to play."
Pujols said he does not feel any pain in his wrist when he grips the bat, and that he has full range of motion.
"I think if I had any pain, I wouldn't be swinging the bat," Pujols said.
Pujols will meet with team physician Dr. George Paletta on Tuesday morning.
"Whenever he gives the OK, I'll be on the field playing," Pujols said. "Hopefully, the test and everything goes well. Whatever the doctors say, and the trainer, then I'll follow that. I feel right where I want to be right now. I'm pretty excited. I can't wait to be back on the field, whatever the time is."
Pujols was not wearing a splint or a brace on his left wrist on Monday and said he only needs a light tape job on his wrist to swing and play the field.
"I think the more movement that you can put on your hand, the better it is. It doesn't get that stiff," Pujols said.
The nine-time All-Star appeared giddy on Monday but stopped just short of saying exactly when he would be able to return. When asked how long it would be, he playfully said, "Listen, I've got four more weeks left guys, that's it. I can't ... that's what the doctors tell me and I have to listen to the doctor."
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said he wouldn't hesitate to play Pujols this week, even if it's for a couple of games before the All-Star break, which begins July 11.
"If he's ready to go, there's no reason to wait," La Russa said. "You listen to the experts, you listen to him, because you trust him, and then you try to make the best judgment you can."
Pujols was hitting .279 with 17 home runs and 45 RBIs in 73 games at the time of his injury. He was heating up at the plate in June prior to going on the DL, though, and hit .317 with eight homers, 14 RBIs and five doubles for the month (17 games).
Pujols said he is being careful not to return before he is fully healed.
"I have to go on how I feel, and pretty much at the same time, they trust me when I'm telling them how I feel," Pujols said. "Hopefully, they can take that. I'm not going to put myself in a situation to get hurt, try to make something worse. If I feel that I can play, I've done it in the past, I play. If I don't, then I'll wait until the time comes."
Entering Monday's matchup with Cincinnati, the Cardinals were 5-7 since Pujols' injury.
Austin Laymance is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.