ANAHEIM -- No, Kendrys Morales isn't all the way back yet. But it's safe to say that at the start of the year, as he was making his return from two ankle surgeries that forced him to miss almost two full seasons, everybody in the organization would've been excited about a final OPS of around .800.
"Tickled -- as I am today," general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "We couldn't even really comfortably pencil in an idea of what Kendrys might deliver. We entered Spring Training only hopeful that he'd be back."
The expectations are different now, because with only nine regular-season games remaining, Morales sports a .277 batting average with 22 homers, 71 RBIs and an .801 OPS heading into Tuesday, starting 113 of the team's 154 games while sitting against left-handed starters. He's also proven he can handle first base on more than an emergency basis, showing some impressive defense while making 24 fill-in starts at the position Albert Pujols is expected to occupy for nine more years.
"For the time I had away, I think I'm having a good season," Morales, who finished 2009 with a .924 OPS, said in Spanish. "I would've liked to produce more and help the team even more, but the time off, with regards to getting the timing from pitchers and stuff, it was a little difficult with the time off. But you have to be happy, because if you look at the time I've missed, I think I had a good year."
This offseason, the Angels may have an interesting decision to make with the 29-year-old Morales.
On one hand, there's the healthy bump he'll get, via his final arbitration year, from his $2.975 million salary in 2012, and that he seems likely to depart via free agency during next year's offseason, given his preference to be more than just a DH and that Scott Boras represents him.
But Morales' left-handed presence behind Pujols is crucial to the Angels -- and his best baseball may still be ahead of him.
"My belief is that he'll only get better from here," Dipoto, a former scout, said. "He's now in as good a baseball shape as he's been in all year, he's swinging the bat comfortably, I think his bat speed has improved from Opening Day until today, his flexibility.
"He's had a very nice year, he's done it very consistently from the time he stepped on the field in Spring Training. And when you can't even comfortably pencil in an idea of what he might give you in terms of production, and then to wake up in mid-September and you're staring at an .800 OPS, it's a very positive thing."