May 29, 2010, was the last time Kendrys Morales played in a real baseball game. On that day, the Angels were hosting the Seattle Mariners and the game went into extra innings where Morales got the chance for some late-game heroics, smashing a walk-off home run to end the game. However, the celebration of that game-ending shot was short lived as Morales fractured his leg hopping onto home plate, immediately ending his season. As it turns out, that long shot out of Angels Stadium would be the last at-bat Morales would see for nearly two years as a setback in his rehab cost him all of 2011 as well. Now, it looks like Morales is finally on the way to rejoining the lineup and settling in behind Albert Pujols in the suddenly crowded Angels batting order as he has gotten over one of the bigger hurdles to returning: running the bases without pain.
Angels’ fans will remember that this was the stumbling block for Morales in 2011. After his initial surgery, Morales was aggressively rehabbing to get back for 2011 when he experienced swelling and pain in his ankle after he would run last spring. He entered camp looking like he would be back for the season, only to have his rehab derailed by the pain, causing the team to shut down his return, and eventually shut him down completely for 2011 with a second surgery to clean out his ankle. Avoiding another setback like that this season is already a huge plus for Morales in 2012.
On Sunday morning, Morales went through his workout of running the bases and reported feeling no pain afterwards. This puts him right on schedule to be playing in spring games by the end of next week and, barring any setbacks, to be the designated hitter for the Halos on Opening Day. The team has been very pleased with Morales’ progress and are not seeing any reason why he won’t be hitting fourth behind new Angel Albert Pujols when the team opens its season April 6 against Kansas City.
There are still plenty of questions left for Morales before he finally gets back into the lineup full time, though. While he’s looked great in batting practice, how will he handle real pitching over 90 mph? How will he handle the adrenaline of a real game-situation? How will his ankle hold up? Will he be able to play every day for a week straight, or will the wear be too much for his recovering leg? Finally, perhaps the most important question; what kind of production will he bring to the DH spot?
If the switch-hitting Morales can return to the form he was in before the injury, the heart of the Angels order will be one of the best in baseball. Morales will add power to the clean-up spot while offering protection for the even more dangerous Pujols hitting third. After losing nearly two full seasons, you can bet Morales is chomping at the bit to get back out there and pick up where he left off. He’s cleared the biggest stumbling block in his path to returning and now he can focus on answering those smaller questions. One word of advice for Morales in 2012, though: leisurely handshake lines are just as satisfying as jumping around in a mob after a win, and about a thousand times safer. Just something to think about.