Kendry Morales offers a cautious note about his return to the Angels

Feb 16 2011 - 6:01pm

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The manager's office was filled with optimism Monday morning when the subject turned to Angels first baseman Kendry Morales.

"I have no doubt he'll be 100 percent by the start of the season," Mike Scioscia said of Morales, who broke a bone above his left ankle May 29 and sat out the rest of the season.

Down the hall, a few hours later, Morales left some doubt.

The switch-hitter, who has a five-inch scar on the outside of the ankle and a pin and six screws from June's surgery on the inside, hasn't had a major setback in his rehabilitation. But Morales, injured when he landed awkwardly on the plate after a game-winning home run, began jogging only a month ago and has run in a straight line at "about 50 percent," he said through a translator.

The Angels are holding him out of defensive drills, and "they don't want me to run yet," said Morales, who has put on 10 pounds since last season.

"I'm not really feeling any pain, but I feel tightness and a lack of flexibility," he said. "As I work out and the inflammation goes down, I should regain that mobility."

Morales, who had a breakout season in 2009, batting .306 with 34 home runs and 108 runs batted in, said he was hopeful about being ready for the March 31 regular-season opener against the Royals in Kansas City.

"I know it could be a possibility (that I'm not ready)," he said. "I've been working mentally on that, to be ready to handle the situation."

But are the Angels?

All winter, Scioscia and General Manager Tony Reagins said Morales, 27, would be better than any free agent they could add.

Scioscia reiterated Monday that "it's critical for us to get Kendry back in the middle of the lineup," and he said it is realistic to think Morales can regain his 2009 form.

"They're going to play me when I'm 100 percent, and the results will come," Morales said. "I'm definitely anxious to play, but I can't go crazy and lose track of the process. I know it's a very difficult injury, and I have to go through the steps."

Jermaine Dye rebounded fairly well from a broken leg suffered in the 2001 playoffs, batting .252 with 24 homers and 86 RBIs in 131 games in 2002.

Former Angels outfielder Juan Rivera sat out all but 14 games of 2007 after breaking his leg the previous winter, and he had a down year in 2008, hitting .246 with 12 homers and 45 RBIs in 89 games.

Scioscia believes Morales shouldn't need too many exhibition games to get his timing back at the plate and in the field, but he admits there are some unknowns regarding stamina.

"What happens if he tweaks it a little bit ... ?" Scioscia said. "How much would that set him back? Those wouldn't be answered until the season. I think we have flexibility to move guys around and have a deep lineup if he needs a day off."

There would be a huge drop-off between Morales and any of those options, which Scioscia listed as second baseman Howie Kendrick, who has some experience at first; Brandon Wood, who hit .146 last season; prospect Mark Trumbo, who has 15 big league at-bats, and even 5-foot-8 utility infielder Alberto Callaspo.

It's pretty clear why Morales' return is so important to the Angels, who scored 202 fewer runs in 2010 than in 2009 and are coming off an 80-82 season.

"The long-range prognosis is very good," Scioscia said of Morales, who was examined last week by Dr. Phil Kwong, the team's foot and ankle specialist. "They did an X-ray, and the alignment in the joint looks good.

"Short range, we're going to ease him into what he needs to do. He's not a guy who would need 80 at-bats and 25 games this spring to get ready."

SHORT HOPS

Scioscia said that when Maicer Izturis is in the lineup "he will be our leadoff hitter." Izturis went to the disabled list three times and was limited to 61 games in 2010. ... Pitching coach Mike Butcher, recovering from surgery to have his thyroid removed after a cancerous growth was found last week, did not participate in Monday's first workout for pitchers and catchers. Minor league coaches Kernan Ronan and Erik Bennett handled Butcher's duties. ... Top prospect Hank Conger will "get a crack" at the starting catching job, Scioscia said, but the Angels "wouldn't carry him as a third catcher."

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