Kendrys runs bases, could play this week
Halos slugger near game action after lengthy left ankle rehab
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The hurdles have been cleared; all the key milestones have been hit. It's all about repetition now for Kendrys Morales.It may only be a matter of time. Morales, the recovering slugger who can be so critical to the Angels' offense if healthy and right, took the last big step in a painstakingly long rehab on Sunday morning, sprinting around the infield and, for the first time, pushing off bases with his recovering left ankle. Now, he'll need to successfully do that a few more times. And if he does, he'll finally get into Spring Training games by the middle of this coming week. "I didn't feel anything at all, wasn't scared doing it or anything," Morales said in Spanish later in the afternoon. "We're gradually moving step by step. I got to that point already, and now I'm thinking that soon I'll be in games." Morales ran five times from home to first, twice from first to third and once from first to home plate. "All I have to do is get a little bit more confidence [in the ankle]," Morales added. "That's really all I'm missing." Positive development aside, though, there was still that customary sense of cautious optimism from manager Mike Scioscia.
Maybe because he's been through this before.It was just last spring when Morales was progressing at the expected rate. Then he had one healthy day of running in a straight line. Then it all went downhill. This year, though, it seems different. Morales, who didn't play in any spring games in 2011 and had the ankle cleaned out a second time in May, has said throughout that he hasn't experienced any next-day soreness and that he's more confident than ever that he'll be ready to open the season with the Angels. But there are still a lot of things he has to prove. And Scioscia is quick to point those out. "I mean, you're talking about trying to do something you really can't simulate," the Angels' skipper said. "These are things that, just the quick-twitch movements you're going to do in a game, reacting, you can only get those through playing. That's why it's important for him to get out there and play and just get a guy to where he is. The fact that his ankle feels good, the fact that he ran the bases well, is definitely important. But there's still a ways to go to see where he's going to be." Morales still needs to readjust to Major League pitching, test the ankle through the rigors of a season and, first and foremost, see how his body reacts after his toughest running day yet. How many plate appearances will Morales need to get his swing back? There's really no telling. Scioscia said Saturday that "an absolute minimum of 25-30 at-bats" are required. Maybe that's all it takes. Or -- more likely, considering the amount of time Morales has missed -- maybe it's somewhere in the 80-90 range. Still, when asked if Morales has enough time to be ready to start the season, Scioscia quickly replied: "Absolutely." "There will be stiffness and soreness in his body just from competing," Scioscia said Saturday. "Those are the issues Kendrys has to deal with. But we feel it's manageable. We're going to have plenty of time to slowly fold him in, let him rebound, play back-to-back games and get his at-bats." Minor League games start Thursday, providing Morales with another avenue to get at-bats even if he isn't in the regular Cactus League lineup. And even if he isn't back to form by Opening Day on April 6, Scioscia has previously indicated he'd prefer that Morales work his way back while hitting lower in the lineup, instead of starting off on a Minor League rehab assignment. The Angels' hope is that Morales -- who could be the Angels' only legitimate power source from the left side -- can eventually bat fourth behind Albert Pujols as the designated hitter. The 28-year-old switch-hitter was an MVP candidate in 2009, batting .306 with 34 homers and 108 RBIs while finishing fifth in voting for the American League. He looked to be headed towards similar success the following season, but on May 29, 2010, Morales shattered his lower left leg while stomping on home plate after a walk-off grand slam. Now, for the first time in the 22 months since the injury, Morales has run the bases -- with cleats, with the actual bases in place and like a normal baseball player would. Small feat? Not on his feet. "I think now that we're close, it's easier for me," Morales said Saturday. "Last year, we thought we were close, but we were actually far. Now, I have no reason to worry. Everything feels good now."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and 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.