ANAHEIM -- Kendrys Morales knows the realities of playing on a team that signed Albert Pujols to a 10-year contract. But at only 29 years old, and on track for free agency after the 2013 season, the last thing he wanted to be labeled as was a designated hitter.
And lately, while holding his own at first base and scorching at the plate, he's proving to be more than that.
"At first, I think everyone was looking at me as a designated hitter simply because of the issues that I had and because I went through a really rough injury," Morales said in Spanish, referring to the two ankle surgeries that caused him to miss almost two full seasons heading into 2012. "But I don't think I'm going to stay as a DH [throughout my career]."
At the plate, Morales has regained his timing and found his power stroke, going into Sunday's series finale against the Tigers with three multi-hit games in his last four starts -- including his first triple since 2009 on Friday -- while hitting .311 with a .590 slugging percentage since the start of August.
But even more impressive has been his play on defense. With Pujols still relegated to designated-hitter duties because of an ailing right calf, Morales has started 10 of the Angels' last 12 games at first base and has handled himself well. He made a critical scoop of a low throw from Erick Aybar with the game tied in Friday's ninth inning, and made a nice play on a high chopper on Saturday.
"I was waiting for an opportunity over there," Morales said. "Unfortunately, it came because Albert is hurt, but the ankle has responded well over there for me to help out the team as much as possible."
Morales still shakes his head when asked if he's back to his 2009, near-MVP form.
But he's as close as ever these days.
"Working hard, you can achieve anything," Morales said. "It may take a little longer sometimes, but you get there.
"It's been two years that I've been waking up early every day and basically tolerating pain. I think sacrifice eventually pays off for everyone. I just need to keep working hard."