Albert Pujols aiming to play 'as many games at first base next year as I can'

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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Albert Pujols said he will "try to play as many games at first base next year as I can" after undergoing season-ending surgery on his left knee two weeks ago.

Shohei Ohtani, who needs Tommy John surgery, is expected to be available only as a designated hitter in 2019, which means the only way he and Pujols can be in the lineup together is if Pujols plays first base.

"Whether we've got Shohei or not, every year I get myself ready to play first base because that's my position," Pujols said Monday, which marked the beginning of the Los Angeles Angels' seven-game homestand. "I wasn't able to do it in '15 or '16 because of injuries, but I get myself ready every year."

Pujols turns 39 in January and still has three years remaining on his contract, valued at $87 million. The two-time Gold Glove Award winner was able to play first base in 70 of the Angels' first 134 games, more than twice as many as the prior two seasons combined.

But that number might still have to increase for Pujols to get a regular amount of at-bats. Ohtani, who was just named American League Player of the Week, has been on a tear of late, batting .363/.457/.813 in 94 plate appearances since the start of August. Ohtani homered four times in his first five September games and has shown an ability to hit lefties, a skill that could make him an everyday presence in the Angels' lineup, even if he opts to surgically repair his pitching elbow.

"If he continues to do what he's doing, you're looking at the Rookie of the Year," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "I think it's very clear."

Ohtani, who sustained new damage to his UCL last week, was expected to meet with Angels general manager Billy Eppler after batting practice on Monday, at which point Ohtani could decide whether to undergo Tommy John surgery, a procedure that would keep him away from pitching until 2020.

Pujols finished his seventh season with the Angels with a .245/.289/.411 slash line -- an improvement over last year -- while adding 19 home runs and 64 RBIs in 117 games.

Pujols said he originally injured his left knee while sliding in Arlington, Texas, late in the 2017 season. He was able to have a normal offseason, but the knee would occasionally flare up this summer. The 10-time All-Star hoped a short stint on the disabled list in the middle of July would make things better, but the pain eventually returned.

With the Angels out of the postseason race, the team talked Pujols into getting surgery sooner so that it wouldn't affect his offseason training.

"I could've easily played the rest of the season, but I felt that it was just getting a little bit worse and worse and we had to take care of it," said Pujols, who had an injection to relieve tendinitis in his left elbow last week and will have bone chips removed from his right elbow this week.

Pujols expects to begin working out again around the middle of November.

The question is whether his body can sustain regular appearances at first base.

"I mean, nobody was expecting me to play 70-plus games [at first base] this year and I did it," Pujols said. "I could've played more. If I'm healthy, I'm expecting myself to play 162 games. That's who I am. I love to be on the field, I want to be on the field. I'm a Gold Glove first baseman. I showed that, that I still could do it out there. And I love that."