Cardinals’ Pujols start for 22nd consecutive opening day

Albert Pujols will be in the starting lineup for the St. Louis Cardinals against the Pittsburgh Pirates as they begin their final season in the big league on Thursday in what should be an emotional return to Busch Stadium.

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol announced Monday that Pujols, who has signed a $2.5 million contract to return to the club where he rose to stardom, will be the designated batsman for his 22nd season. Start in a row will be on opening day. That ties Hank Aaron and Carl Yastrzemski in the second-highest spots behind only Pete Rose, who placed 23rd consecutively during his career.

“I don’t want to set any expectations because I like to be surprised, so I’m just going to enjoy it,” Pujols said as he headed out for the final days of spring training in Jupiter, Fla. “I’m sure it will be emotional for me and the fans too. But I’m focused on getting the reps I need to prepare for this season.”

Pujols has been able to relieve Paul Goldschmidt at times at first base this season and he was expected to get some work there this week before the club return to St. Louis. Otherwise, the Cardinals consider him a designated hitter and late-inning pinch hitter, along with a wise presence in a clubhouse that’s a nice mix of old and new.


Pujols, 42, and his close friend Yadier Molina have previously said this will be their last season in the big league. So could right-hander Adam Wainwright, who joined the other two to bring World Series championships to St. Louis in 2006 and 2011.

Pujols, who is returning to St. Louis with 679 career home runs, hit .236 with 17 homers last season while sharing time with the Angels and Dodgers. But the three-time NL MVP showed he can still be a force against left-handed pitching, hitting .294 with 13 homers in just 136 at-bats, making him an attractive depth piece for the Cardinals.

“This guy’s definitely dialed in,” Marmol said. “He has a mission to finish well. He’s in shape, he’s feeling good and his timing makes him feel better every time he gets a punch. From a mental and physical point of view he is ready to go.”

Wainwright, 40, was chosen to start Saturday’s opening day, although the announcement merely made official what almost everyone was expecting. It’s the sixth time he’s taken the ball on opening day for St. Louis.


“Me and these two guys are the last ones left and it’s special to have them with me as I finish my career,” Pujols said. “Hopefully we can still get a run for a title. That would make it so perfect.”

In other news, the Cardinals put right-hander Jack Flaherty on the injured list Monday and announced that rookie pitcher Andre Pallante had earned the bottom spot on the 28-man list after strong spring practice.

The Cardinals have already indicated that they do not expect Flaherty to return for the first month of the season. Her opening day starter of the last two years received a platelet-rich plasma injection on March 18 to relieve irritation in his shoulder and was dealing with a small tear in his right labrum that could make recovery worse.

Flaherty went 9-2 with a 3.22 ERA in 15 starts and 17 appearances for the Cardinals last season.

The Cardinals selected right-hander Jake Walsh to Triple-A Memphis Monday while assigning left-hander Connor Thomas, catcher Julio Rodriguez and infielder Cory Spangenberg to the minors.



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Dais Johnston

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