Kendrys Morales: Ankle 'a lot better'

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Los Angeles Angels slugger Kendrys Morales said Sunday his left ankle feels "a lot better" than it did last spring, when a series of setbacks eventually forced him to have a second surgery and cost him all of the 2011 season.

Morales will test the ankle further by sprinting on the outfield grass Monday, the first workout for Angels pitchers, catchers and injured players. His progress has given the Angels more hope they can provide lineup protection for newly acquired slugger Albert Pujols, with manager Mike Scioscia penciling Morales in as his cleanup hitter and designated hitter.

Morales still must run the bases at full speed before he'll be fully cleared, but he predicted he'll be ready by April 6 against Kansas City. Morales said he no longer feels any pain in the leg he broke while hopping onto home plate celebrating a game-winning home run in May of 2010.

"They already operated on me a second time and cleaned up my ankle and everything I had damaged," Morales said. "I've been running for about four months, and I think by Opening Day I should be ready."

Morales, 28, batted .306 with 34 home runs and 108 RBIs in 2009 before the bizarre injury that cost him nearly two seasons. His importance to the Angels is magnified by the team's lack of left-handed power.

Scioscia has seen video of Morales' workouts and said he looks "great," but that his progression this spring will be "very guarded." Last year in Arizona, Morales experienced pain and swelling the day after he ran.

"He had no problem swinging the bat. None. The other parts you need to play the game obviously fell through as he began to get in shape to run," Scioscia said. "I think we're more optimistic that he can reach a level to fill the need we have on our team, as far as swinging from the left side and giving us that presence behind Albert."

Scioscia said the team is viewing Morales strictly as a DH for now, but that he may begin some defensive work by the end of the spring. Morales dabbled at third base while playing for the Cuban national team, but he has been a first baseman since emigrating seven years ago.

The other powerful first baseman displaced by Pujols, Mark Trumbo, has been taking ground balls at third for about a month, but has yet to be cleared for high-impact workouts due to a stress fracture in his right foot. Trumbo will fly back to Southern California for a series of tests on Feb. 28, hopeful he'll be cleared to run after that.

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.