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After homer, Pujols knows he still has work to do

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Albert Pujols was asked the fitting, predictable question after coming out of Saturday's game against the Rockies.

"Any sense of relief to get the first home run out of the way?"

The Angels' first baseman scoffed, demonstratively yet playfully.

"I don't think of that," Pujols said. "I hit seven home runs last spring and had my worst start to a season. I come down here just to get my quality at-bats and get in games and get my legs in shape and my timing on, and hopefully by Opening Day get it going. Obviously, you always want to have a good Spring Training. You always want to swing the bat well, but in the end, as long as you get your work, I think that's the most important thing."

Starting his second Cactus League game -- and first since Tuesday, with both coming as the designated hitter as he works through offseason knee surgery -- Pujols got a 2-0, inside-corner sinker from Rockies starter Juan Nicasio and turned on it, skying a towering homer over the left-field fence to notch his first hit of the spring.

But a mere Spring Training homer isn't a sign that Pujols' Hall of Fame-caliber timing is back.

It isn't -- and it probably won't be at peak form until the regular season is a few weeks old.

"Usually, to me, it's probably by the middle of April when I feel really good," Pujols said. "So the first couple of weeks of April, I try to fight and get my hits here and there."

Pujols went 0-for-3 in his debut, striking out and hitting two slow rollers. On Saturday, he struck out on a checked swing in his first plate appearance, homered in his second and grounded into a 5-2-3, bases-loaded double play in his third.

Once again, the opposing team agreed to allow the Angels a courtesy runner in case Pujols needed to run the bases.

The 32-year-old slugger isn't ready to run full speed just yet, but he continues to make progress. After the game, Pujols ran the bases for the first time in one of the back fields at the Tempe Diablo Stadium complex. He said his surgically repaired right knee has "no pain at all," but isn't sure when he'll play first base in a game.

"Right now, I'm just happy to get my at-bats," said Pujols, who's expected to be ready by Opening Day. "We have a pretty good game plan. I don't want to rush this thing. I'm taking some ground balls and that's what I need."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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