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Inside the Dodgers commitment to Albert Pujols

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“This organization had a really good game plan for me,” Pujols said

Arizona Diamondbacks v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

When the Dodgers called agent Dan Lozano on Thursday, and even after the subsequent meeting between Andrew Friedman, Dave Roberts and Albert Pujols on Friday, the roster looked a lot different than it did by the time the 41-year-old future Hall of Famer batted cleanup on Monday, his first day with Los Angeles.

“The most important thing in that conversation was for everyone to be open and honest and transparent, and also acknowledge that we don’t know what things will look like a week from now, two weeks from now, a month from now,” said Friedman. “We walked through how we saw things in the near term, and then after that [AJ] Pollock got hurt, [Corey] Seager got hurt. So, things are fluid, things are changing all the time.”

Roberts acknowledged that Pujols is getting more playing time at the moment that what was expected of him, even on Friday, before various injuries happened. It was part of the discussion with Pujols, that there were many avenues his path with the Dodgers could take.

“I think being transparent with the player is the way to go, so there’s no bait and switch. We painted as good of a picture as it could go in any different direction, and he made a decision that this was the best place for him,” Roberts said. “Now it’s our job to navigate each game, the roster, and how that looks. No one really knows right now.”

“This organization had a really good game plan for me,” Pujols said. “And the end of the day, that’s what it was all about for me.”

Three Dodgers starters are currently on the injured list, with Cody Bellinger joining Pollock and Seager, plus utility man Zach McKinstry. Chris Taylor is dealing with right wrist soreness, so what would have been a start for him on Monday instead became a night off the bench.

“We fully get that injuries are a part of the game. It’s more been the concentration of them that we were definitely not as prepared for as I would have liked,” Friedman said. “Figuring out how to augment our depth and add players that we feel like can help us win games is definitely very much at the front of mind.”

In addition to Pujols, other roster additions in the last few days have included utility man Trevor Blankenhorn and corner infielder/outfielder Yoshi Tsutsugo, who struggled in parts of two seasons with the Rays after a productive, power-filled career in Japan.

“This is something that’s going to make some news as we get going,” Roberts said of Tsutsugo, who was also activated Monday.

While the headliner was Pujols, they are simply in need of just about any position player that could help. The bench, for the most part, has not produced. The four offensive players who didn’t start the season on the opening day roster — Luke Raley, Sheldon Neuse, DJ Peters, and Keibert Ruiz — are a combined 18 for 101, hitting .178/.239/.327 with 41 strikeouts and four walks. Raley and Peters made their major league debut this season. Neuse had 61 major league plate appearances prior to 2021, and Ruiz had eight.

“It’s hard being a bench player in the major leagues. It’s really hard for young players to be productive bench players. It’s a learning process for sure,” Friedman said. “It’s a tough spot for the guys that we’ve had up here, and none have really seized it yet. It doesn’t mean that we fundamentally feel any different about them as prospects and as major league players. We just don’t feel like they’re in the spot to kind of carry those big at-bats right this second.”

Though Pujols is batting cleanup on Monday, his role wasn’t exactly revealed, other than he was open to anything, in contrast with what the Angels said after releasing him, that he wanted to play every day. Pujols on Monday insisted he never made such a demand, and also said he had no hard feelings towards the Angels’ “business decision.”

The Dodgers also made it clear that Pujols’ role depends on who is available.

“We’re still talking through, trying to figure out our roster day to day,” Roberts said. “We’ll continue to talk through getting him at-bats, keeping him relevant, taking at-bats off the bench.”

Pinch-hitting will take some getting used to for Pujols, who has started 98.4 percent of his major league games. In just over 20 major league seasons, he has 41 pinch-hit plate appearances, including only 13 since 2009, when he had his last pinch hit (a home run).

“If this is going to be a part of my role, then listen, I’m going to embrace it. I’m going to be ready,” Pujols said. “I told [Friedman] I’d be ready whether it’s a day I don’t play, or whether that’s a day I feel I can go out there and help this ball club win.”