ANAHEIM, Calif. » When Kendry Morales finally gets back to home plate at Angel Stadium next season, he’ll look before he leaps.
Morales returned to the Los Angeles Angels’ dugout yesterday before his teammates faced the Texas Rangers during their final homestand. The Angels’ disappointing season really started on May 29, when Morales broke his leg jumping on home plate to celebrate a game-ending grand slam against Seattle.
The slugging Cuban first baseman had season-ending surgery in early June. He has watched video of the incident, but remains bewildered by one of the weirdest major injuries in recent sports history.
"I remember jumping, hitting the ground, looking at my foot and feeling I had broken it," Morales said through a translator in his first public comments about the injury. "You just get caught up in the emotion of the game, the victory. You think about what would have happened if I didn’t jump, but it was an accident. It happened, and all I can do is move forward."
Morales was on crutches for two months. He remained in Southern California for rehabilitation, and he plans to stay in town through the offseason, skipping winter ball to speed his recovery.
Although he says his rehab is slightly ahead of schedule, Morales hasn’t begun baseball activities or running. He’s working on strength exercises and agility drills, including jumping.
"Clearly, I’m not very good at jumping," Morales said with a laugh.
"It’s been difficult, (because) it’s the first time in my career I’ve been in this position," Morales said. "It’s tough because as much as you want to help on the field, you can’t. More than anything, you try to help mentally. You try to keep on the guys and help them out as much as possible."
Morales occasionally has been around the Angels, and he thinks his teammates miss his clubhouse humor nearly as much as his offensive prowess.
He was the Angels’ offensive pacesetter when he was hurt, leading the team with 11 homers, 39 RBIs and a .290 average. Los Angeles counted heavily on Morales to prop up an offense that lost Vladimir Guerrero and Chone Figgins in the offseason, but Morales’ departure put additional pressure on veterans Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu, who haven’t been able to keep the Angels afloat even after a 20-8 run in the month following Morales’ injury.
Morales’ absence also hurt the Angels’ defense, leaving them without a stellar fielder. Los Angeles has been forced to patch its hole at first base with a variety of underqualified replacements.
Los Angeles is likely to miss the playoffs for just the third time in nine seasons and will need a solid finish just to avoid the second sub-.500 season of manager Mike Scioscia’s career.
Scioscia was pleased to see Morales yesterday — but not excessively so.
"It’ll be good when he’s able to play first base," Scioscia said with a chuckle. "He’s moving along well. I think he feels good where his rehab is. We’ll see how things progress. I know he’s looking forward to getting back out there at some point."