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Albert Pujols will be in the St. Louis Cardinals’ starting lineup against the Pittsburgh Pirates when he begins his final season in the league on Thursday in what should be an emotional return to Busch Stadium.
Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol announced on Monday that Pujols, who signed a $2.5 million deal to return to the club where he became a star, will be the designated hitter for his 22nd consecutive opener. . That equates to Hank Aaron and Carl Yastrzemski in second place behind only Pete Rose, who has gone 23 in a row in his career.
“I don’t want to set expectations because I like to be surprised, so I’m just going to enjoy it,” Pujols said as he headed into the final days of spring training in Jupiter, Florida. “I’m sure it will be emotional for me, and for the fans too. But my goal is to try and get the reps I need to prepare for this season.”
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Later Monday, the 10 Times All-Star released a statement confirming he had filed for divorce from his wife, Deidre, after 22 years of marriage. Deidre Pujols underwent surgery last week to remove a brain tumor discovered in October.
“I realize that now is not the most opportune time with the approach of opening day and other family events that have taken place recently,” said Pujols. “These situations are never easy and it’s something that happened overnight. As a devout Christian, that’s an outcome I never wanted to see happen.”
Pujols asked for “our privacy and the privacy of our five children during this time”.
On the field, Pujols could sometimes replace Paul Goldschmidt at first base this season, and he was expected to work on it a bit this week before the club returns to St. Louis. Otherwise, the Cardinals view him as a designated hitter and bottom-inning pinch hitter, as well as a presence in a clubhouse that has a good mix of old and new.
Pujols, 42, and his close friend, Yadier Molina, have already announced that this will be their last season in the league. That could also be the case for right-hander Adam Wainwright, who joined the other two in bringing the World Series championships to St. Louis in 2006 and 2011.
ALBERT PUJOLS BACK AT CARDINALS, SAYS HE WILL RETIRE AFTER 2022 MLB SEASON
Pujols, who returns to St. Louis with 679 career homers, hit .236 with 17 home runs last season while splitting time with the Angels and Dodgers. But the three-time NL MVP has shown he can still be a force against left-handed throwing, hitting .294 with 13 homers on just 136 at-bats and making him an attractive depth piece for the Cardinals.
“This guy is definitely connected,” Marmol said. “He’s on a mission to finish well. He’s in good shape, he feels good and with his timing, every time he gets a shot at the bat he feels better. From a mental and physical point of view, he is ready to go.”
Wainwright, 40, was chosen to start opening day on Saturday, although the announcement only formalized what everyone expected. It will be the sixth time he takes the ball on the first day of Saint-Louis.
“Me and these two guys are the last ones still here, and it’s special to have them with me as I finish my career,” Pujols said. “I hope we have one more race for a title. That would make it so perfect.”
In other news Monday, the Cardinals placed right-hander Jack Flaherty on the disabled list and announced rookie pitcher Andre Pallante was given the final spot on the 28-man roster after a solid spring training.
The Cardinals had previously indicated they did not expect Flaherty to return for the first month of the season. Their first open day of the past two years had a platelet-rich plasma injection on March 18 to ease the irritation in his shoulder, and he dealt with a small tear in his right labrum that could worsen healing.
Flaherty went 9-2 with a 3.22 ERA in 15 starts and 17 appearances for the Cardinals last season.
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The Cardinals moved to right-hander Jake Walsh at Triple-A Memphis on Monday while reassigning left-hander Connor Thomas, receiver Julio Rodriguez and infielder Cory Spangenberg to the minors.