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Pujols could return to Cardinals today

Albert Pujols stands in the Cardinals’ dugout with a soft cast on his left arm during a game last month at Busch Stadium. Pujols could be back in the Cardinals’ lineup tonight against the Reds.

Albert Pujols stands in the Cardinals’ dugout with a soft cast on his left arm during a game last month at Busch Stadium. Pujols could be back in the Cardinals’ lineup tonight against the Reds. Photo by The Associated Press.

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Albert Pujols could be back in the St. Louis Cardinals’ lineup as early as tonight, beating the initial timetable for his return from a broken left wrist by a month.

After taking indoor batting practice and fielding grounders outside Monday, Pujols said there was no pain and added he felt great. He’s scheduled to be examined by team physician Dr. George Paletta this morning.

“I can’t wait to get back on the field,” Pujols said. “Hopefully, it can be (today). If it’s not, whenever the time comes will be the right time to play.”

Today is the first day Pujols is eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list. He broke the wrist in a collision at first base June 19 trying to make a tag with his glove hand of the Royals’ Wilson Betemit.

“Oh yeah, he’s ahead of schedule,” manager Tony La Russa said. “No doubt.”

The team initially believed the three-time NL MVP would be out six weeks and could return at the start of August. Pujols underwent a CT scan Friday that indicated fast progress and said he’d been hitting for about a week with the wrist taped.

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak anticipated Pujols would wear a soft cast for a month. But he said he wears it sporadically and left it in his car Monday.

“If I have any pain, I don’t think I’d be swinging the bat,” Pujols said. “Whenever I start swinging outside, you guys are going to see.”

The Cardinals lost five of their first six games without Pujols but had recovered lately and were 6-7 overall after Monday’s 1-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds. Manager Dusty Baker said Pujols’ rapid recovery doesn’t “shock me. That’s Albert.”

“They’ve still got a good offense,” Baker added. “With Albert, they’ve got a great offense.”

Pujols had been among the league leaders with 17 home runs and 45 RBI, but his .279 average is 50 points below his career numbers. So he wasn’t surprised he wasn’t chosen for the NL All-Star team. Pujols had been to nine straight All-Star games and had been starting to heat up before the injury, batting .333 with eight homers in the last 15 games.

“My numbers are there probably compared to some of the guys who are going to be in the game, but I believe myself I haven’t played like an All-Star, so I don’t think I deserve to be in there,” Pujols said. “Of course you want to be an All-Star every year if you can, but I can’t be disappointed.”

Catcher Gerald Laird said he’d begin a three-day rehab from a broken right index finger today with Triple-A Memphis and hoped to be in the lineup Friday. Laird missed his 38th game Monday.

“We’ve been pushing it and the hand feels great,” Laird said. “No problem at all.”

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