02/22/12 7:33 PM EST
Injury strengthens Kendrys' resolve for '12 return
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
"It happened simply because it was my turn that day," Morales said from Tempe Diablo Stadium, once again the setting for a recovery he hopes goes a lot better this spring. "If it didn't happen in the ballpark, it would've happened outside, and I would've preferred for it to happen in the ballpark because I was out with my family that day. Who knows, maybe I'd have a car accident or something. That day, something was going to happen."
Morales believes in that sort of thing. He's a devout Christian, a proponent of fate and a firm believer that God puts obstacles in front of you for a reason. It's a belief that helps make him mentally strong and thus makes it easier to disguise just how painful it was to miss nearly two full seasons when Morales was entering his prime.
But that type of thing isn't easy on anybody.
"He was frustrated," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He was especially frustrated when he had the setback last year that cost him the year, like anybody would be."
Minutes after his home run off Brandon League helped secure a 5-1 win over the Mariners at Angel Stadium in 2010, Morales' cleat slipped on home plate and led to surgery on his lower left leg -- one that was delayed about a week because the swelling was so bad.
By early March of the following year, Morales was running on his own power, then eventually running around the bases and hoping to get into some Spring Training games by the end of the month.
But then Morales was swelling up too much, had to shut it down for days at a time, couldn't run hard without pain, had to be placed on the disabled list to start the season, was being fitted for orthotic insoles and, by early May 2011, was seeking second opinions.
"I did all I had to do," Morales said. "They gave me three injections in my ankle to see if it would get rid of the pain, I would train every day, but there were days when I'd continue running in pain. In the end, I just couldn't. It wasn't ready."
Morales could've opted to receive yet another injection, but there was no guarantee it would work, so the Cuba native instead decided to shut it down completely. So, on May 27, Dr. Thomas Clanton performed a second surgery on Morales' ankle, cleaning out any lingering scar tissue and debris and performing a bone graft.
And then, off he went again. More rehab, more solitude, more resting, more ice packs, more heat pads and more Angels games on television.
"Obviously it was tough," teammate and good friend Maicer Izturis said, "but the important thing is he's a guy with a very positive attitude. He's one of those guys who's unflappable and always focused."
The Angels played 213 games during the two seasons in which their switch-hitting slugger was absent.
Morales swears he didn't miss a single one.
"There were times when there would be opportunities when I was supposed to hit, and seeing that they wouldn't respond, it would bother me," Morales said. "Because I could've been in that spot. But I knew there was nothing I could do. I was lying in bed."
It's hard not to feel some deja vu when tracking Morales' recovery this spring. But while it all appears to look exactly the same so far -- he spent the offseason hitting and throwing, he's currently sprinting lightly on the outfield grass, and his manager is addressing his status daily -- Morales and Scioscia continue to stress that it's different this time.
"I no longer have any aches and pains; my ankle doesn't get swollen," Morales said. "Last year, I was running and doing all my activities normally on the field, but I didn't feel the same as this year. My ankle would swell up a lot. I'd run one day, then have to stop for three. It wasn't the same."
"This is the healthiest he's felt since he had the original injury," Scioscia added. "But also, I think more importantly, he feels he's at a level where he's close to doing what he needs to do to play in games. And that gives him a lot of, I think, confidence moving forward that he's going to get there."
It's no coincidence that in their two seasons without Morales, the Angels -- participants of October baseball six times from 2002-09 -- have missed the playoffs.
But perhaps it's a little ironic that while they've spent more than $315 million to bring in Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, it's one of their mainstays who remains arguably the most important key to success this season.
If healthy and able, Morales will be the designated hitter and bat cleanup behind Pujols.
The question on everybody's mind is: Can he revert back to his 2009, MVP-type form?
"Of course," Morales said with a smile, "and maybe even better with the experience I've gone through."
Morales probably won't be game-ready by the time the Angels play in their exhibition opener on March 5, but if he keeps progressing, he shouldn't be too far off. The 28-year-old believes his timing will come back naturally if he gets enough plate appearances in Spring Training, and Scioscia believes not having to worry about first base gives him a much better chance of returning to form.
If that happens, watch out.
"This is the best team I've ever been on, since I started playing any type of professional baseball," Morales said. "I've never been on a team as complete as this one. This team has it all -- power hitters, speed guys, batting-average guys, starting pitching, relief pitching, closer. Everything. The only thing we need is for luck to be on our side."
Perhaps Morales is due some of that.
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.