Depending on one's point of view, Albert Pujols started his exhibition season 10 days late or 10 days early.
Recovering from offseason surgery on his right knee, the three-time MVP went 0 for 3 in his first spring training appearance of 2013 as the Los Angeles Angels beat the Cincinnati Reds 6-4 Tuesday.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia had not expected Pujols to play for another week-and-a-half.
"I need to get my at-bats," Pujols said. "It doesn't matter how much you hit in the cage. You need to see live pitching."
Pujols, batting third as the designated hitter, had a broken-bat grounder to third in the first against Mike Leake, struck out swinging in the fourth versus Aroldis Chapman and grounded to shortstop in the sixth against Wilkin De La Rosa.
"The main goal is to come out of here healthy and to be ready for the season," Pujols said.
Pujols started slowly in his first season after leaving St. Louis for a $240 million, 10-year deal with the Angels, then wound up hitting 30 homers with 105 RBIs.
"He wanted to see some velocity and he got to see some," Scioscia said. "Some of those guys had some high octane."
In addition to Pujols, the Angels used their projected starting outfield for the first time: Mike Trout in left, Peter Bourjos in center and Josh Hamilton in right field. They combined to go 4 for 8.
"It's fun to see those guys," Scioscia said.
Shortstop Erick Aybar and third baseman Alberto Callaspo were the only regulars missing.
Jay Bruce hit a pair of solo homers for the Reds, off Tommy Hanson in the second and Scott Downs in the fourth.
"It was nice to see Jay swing the bat well," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "It's his best game so far. He hit one out to center. You know when he does that he's staying on the ball and not pulling off."
Hanson, 13-10 with a 4.48 ERA in 2012 with Atlanta, made his first spring training start for the Angels and allowed one run and three hits in two innings.
"I was so-so," Hanson said. "I felt good for my first time out. The ball was up higher than I wanted it to be. I think I was a little excited out there for the first time. Hopefully, I can calm down a bit next time. When I threw the ball in the zone they were very aggressive. I'm working on fastball command and to get the ball to the bottom of the zone with it I threw a lot of fastballs and not a lot of breaking balls."
Leake, making his second appearance, gave up four hits in three scoreless innings. He's currently competing with Chapman for the fifth starting spot in the rotation. The Reds plan to make Chapman a starter after the offseason acquisition of closer Jonathan Broxton.
"He threw me three sliders back to back to back," Pujols said. "He's a great pitcher. He showed last year what he can do."
Leake, 8-9 with a 4.58 ERA for the Reds last season, was happy to face a lineup that somewhat resembled a regular-season batting order.
"It is more fun to face big names. It let's you know where you are," he said.
"The competition helps me," he said of trying to win a starting job. "I don't get lazy but I get comfortable. I like to be counted out. It gives me fire, but I like to be respected, too. I like it both ways.
Chapman had 38 saves and a 1.51 ERA last season.
"I just go out there and do my job," he said. "I tried to command all my pitches. It is important that I have command of my breaking ball. I am going to use more offs-peed pitches as a starter. I'm just throwing my fastball normal."
Baker was happy with both.
"Leake was really good," Baker said. "Chapman was pretty good. Our starters have been really good. Some of younger kids get in the game and are a little overmatched right now. People say get them out, but they have to get their work in. We have to get them ready, too. For Chapman it's early. I don't want him in midseason form right now. Sometimes we expect too much all the time."