ST. LOUIS (AP) - Albert Pujols is more than just one of the best players in baseball. He's also an incredibly rapid healer.
The St. Louis Cardinals activated their three-time NL MVP off the 15-day disabled list Tuesday, a month ahead of schedule in his recovery from a broken left wrist.
Pujols was not in the lineup Tuesday night against Cincinnati. But manager Tony La Russa planned to use him off the bench in some capacity and said he expected Pujols would be in the lineup today.
"Thrilled," La Russa said. "We all are. It's about as good a break as we could catch."
The NL Central leaders initially believed Pujols would be out six weeks after getting hurt June 19 in a collision at first base with the Royals' Wilson Betemit. The Cardinals thought Pujols would be back in early August.
Tuesday was the first day Pujols was eligible to return from the DL. He said he'd predicted 15 days would be enough.
"Does it surprise you?" the star first baseman asked. "It doesn't surprise me. A lot of people praying for me and I believe all the prayers are being answered.
"That's a good way to describe it."
Reds manager Dusty Baker said he thought Pujols might be back early.
"I didn't think it was going to take as long as they said originally, knowing Albert," Baker said. "With modern medicine, and he's probably working on it around the clock, no it doesn't really surprise me.
"Somebody else, maybe. But not him."
The team's medical staff cleared Pujols to return earlier in the day. For a final test, Pujols had an active pregame. Clad in shorts, Pujols took his first round of live batting practice from first base coach Dave McKay, and also fielded dozens of grounders at first base, then he had more hitting work indoors.
"He's not in the starting lineup because he hasn't had a rigorous workout and I feel like it would be good for him to get one of those, and then play tomorrow," La Russa said. "I just try to use common sense."
The Cardinals placed left-handed reliever Brian Tallet on the 15-day disabled list with a right ribcage injury the pitcher said had been hindering him for about a week. Tallet said the source of his injury was a violent sneeze.
"It wasn't anything weird," Tallet said. "I was just kind of laying down with my boy and coughed a couple times and then a big sneeze."
La Russa said there was no chance Pujols could talk his way into the lineup Tuesday. Lance Berkman was playing first base and Matt Holliday was in Pujols' No. 3 spot.
"We talked and that's private, that's between me and Tony and the trainers, so I don't have to tell you the discussion we had," Pujols said. "When he posted the lineup, if I was there it was fine.
"I'm just happy to be available for the ballclub, it's better than being on the DL, so I'm pretty excited."
After taking indoor batting practice and fielding grounders outside Monday, Pujols said there was no pain and he felt great.
The Cardinals went 6-7 without Pujols but entered the day leading the division by one game over Milwaukee.
"That's what our club has been doing, they've been doing a good job of compensating," La Russa said.
Tallet missed 34 games earlier with a broken hand sustained making a tumbling putout at first base April 12. He has allowed at least a run in seven of his 13 appearances since returning. He's 0-1 with an 8.31 ERA in 18 games overall.
Tallet said he tried to pitch with the injury for five or six days before telling the team his delivery had been compromised.
"It just progressively didn't get any better, got a little worse, got a little worse," Tallet said. "I'm the kind of guy who's going to keep going out there battling through it until it gets to the point that you've got to make the move."