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Courtesy runner takes Pujols' place on bases

Courtesy runner takes Pujols' place on bases

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It wasn't a local kickball game, but it felt like it the two times Albert Pujols reached base and gave way to what can simply be called a "courtesy runner."

For each of Pujols' three starts this spring, the Angels have made an agreement with the opposing manager to let them deploy a pinch runner whose sole purpose was to run the bases so their recovering slugger could simply hit.

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It didn't come into play in the first two games, with Pujols going 1-for-6 with a homer. But on Sunday, when Pujols went 2-for-2 with a walk and his second home run in as many days, it raised confusion at Surprise Stadium.

Non-roster invitee Matt Young, who finished the game in center field, replaced Pujols on the bases after a line drive single in the first inning, but the umpires thought that meant Pujols was out of the game. So they were surprised to see him come to the plate in the third, which prompted a long on-field discussion between Angels manager Mike Scioscia, crew chief Bill Miller and Royals skipper Ned Yost.

"I talked to Mike about it before the game and I didn't have a problem with it," Yost said. "On a number of fronts: One, we had a packed house [7,417 announced attendance] and they want to see Albert Pujols; and two, I want our pitchers facing Albert Pujols. I didn't think it would be an issue, but Bill thought it'd be an issue."

The Angels were eventually allowed to use Young after Pujols drew a walk in his second plate appearance -- but they let Pujols jog around the bases when he took Bruce Chen deep in the fifth.

Pujols ran the bases for the first time on Saturday and has said all along that he'll be ready by Opening Day, but the Angels are being extra cautious with him after offseason right knee surgery.

There's still no target date for Pujols' debut at first base, where he continues to field groundballs, but simply appearing in back-to-back games is a good sign -- even if it comes as the designated hitter.

"I think it's significant in the fact that still he has to run, he has to swing; there's some things that he needs to do," Scioscia said. "But I think when he gets out there and plays first base and repeats it, we'll know that he's far enough along that his leg's feeling where it should be."

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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