Pujols' return to Cards uncertain after inconclusive MRI

ST. LOUIS -- The timetable for Albert Pujols' return was uncertain Monday after an MRI exam of a strained muscle on his right side was inconclusive.

The St. Louis Cardinals, who placed Pujols on the 15-day disabled list Sunday, had hoped the MRI would give them some indication of when he can play again. Instead, they are still wondering when Pujols, last year's NL MVP and the major-league leader in home runs and RBI this season, will be back.

"You just don't know," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "You can do anything you want to, but I'm not going to get into this day-to-day soap opera with Albert's this and Albert's that."

Pujols said he felt better Monday than the previous day but didn't know what that meant. He realized his first stint on the DL could be a long one, with the most pessimistic assessment calling for a return after the All-Star break.

"It could be two weeks, it could be three, four, five or six," Pujols said. "Whatever weeks it's going to be, I'm going to take my time. It's terrible, but what can I do? I don't want to shoot myself."

Team doctors have told La Russa that Monday's MRI established only base data and that a future MRI, perhaps in a few weeks, would be more helpful in determining how long Pujols would be sidelined.

The positives, as spelled out by La Russa: Pujols is only 26; he left the game soon after being injured rather than aggravating it at the plate; and the injury is on his right side. For a right-handed hitter, it's much more difficult to recover from an injury to the left side.

"Those things tell me that maybe we'll catch a break, and it may be a few days less than what it could have been," La Russa said.

The injury interrupted what was shaping up as a record-challenging season for Pujols, who has 25 homers and 65 RBI. His RBI total is already better than nine Cardinals season leaders, and even after missing most of the last two games Pujols was on pace for 72 homers and 188 RBI.

La Russa is more concerned about what it means for the team, which led the NL Central by three games entering a three-game series against the second-place Reds on Monday night.

"What's really disappointing is we're a better club when he plays and we've got a hot race going," La Russa said. "But as a fan, which I am, it's disappointing, too.

"It would have been neat to give him 600 at-bats and see just what he could accomplish," he said.

Pujols insisted that when he felt something pop on his right side while chasing a foul ball by the Cubs' Aramis Ramirez in the second inning on Saturday, a monster season did not flash by his eyes. He was worried what the injury would do to the team.

"Records are made to be broken, but if it doesn't happen this year, I don't think about it," Pujols said. "Seventy-three home runs or 75 or whatever is a lot of home runs, that's a lot of balls being hit out of the park, but I don't think about that.

"I was thinking about staying healthy and helping my team to win," he said.

When he pulled up and grabbed his side, Pujols forgot all about the foul ball.

"You have to shoot me to get me out of the game," he said. "That's what it felt like."

Jim Edmonds played first base, Pujols' position, for the second straight game on Monday. Edmonds had been on the verge of going on the DL with an abdominal injury that prevented him from playing center field because of the running involved with the position.

For now at least Edmonds has found a way to contribute, going 3-for-3 on Sunday after missing a week, even if he and the manager disagree on whether he's risking further injury by playing. La Russa said team medical officials have told him that Edmonds might encounter more pain but could not make the injury worse, while Edmonds said Dr. George Paletta, the team's orthopedic consultant, emphasized that he take it easy.

Edmonds said he would have played earlier if he was told it was a pain issue.

La Russa said he left a lineup spot open on Monday until consulting with Edmonds, who said he felt fine.

"If you have a crystal ball right now, he may play today and that would be the last game he plays," La Russa said. "It's a roll of the dice as far as how long he can play with it.

"What's not a roll of the dice is he's not going to cause damage to that area that makes it any worse than it is now," he said.