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02/14/11 3:39 PM EST

Morales hopes to be ready by Opening Day

TEMPE, Ariz. -- A natural athlete with no fear on a baseball diamond, Kendry Morales is convinced he can rebound from surgery on his left leg and return to the form that made him a breakout star in 2009, ranking among the American League leaders with 34 homers, 108 RBIs and a .306 batting average.

The Angels' first baseman, as realistic as he is confident in his talents, just isn't sure when that process will begin.

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Asked on Monday, as the Angels opened camp at Tempe Diablo Stadium, if he expected to be in the lineup on Opening Day in Kansas City, Morales hedged.

"No se," was his initial response. Translation: "I don't know."

Expanding on the thought through the translation of club video coordinator Diego Lopez, Morales alluded to the severity of the fracture in his lower left leg he suffered on May 29 and the long, often tedious recovery process following surgery.

"This is the first time I've had an injury of that magnitude," Morales said when asked about his rehab. "It wasn't easy, but it wasn't difficult, either.

"I'm not really feeling any pain, but I feel tightness for a lack of flexibility. I'll keep working out and the inflammation goes down again, and I'll get mobility.

"The first thing would be to get fully in shape to play -- and then maintain the numbers I had."

Swinging the bat from both sides in the cage, Morales -- fifth in the AL Most Valuable Player Award voting in 2009 -- said he has experienced "no pain at all." The big hurdle involves running full speed. He can't be sure when he'll clear it.

The former Cuban national team sensation has been jogging lightly for a month, moving, by his estimate, at about 50 percent. He needs to be running 100 percent, according to Angels manager Mike Scioscia, before he'll play.

"I hope to be ready for Opening Day," Morales said. "I want to be on the line for Opening Day.

"They're going to play me when I'm 100 percent. I know that's the way baseball is. Results are going to come. I have to keep working hard and be ready."

Morales, 27, claimed the first-base job in 2009 after Mark Teixeira signed with the Yankees, turning a question mark into an exclamation point.

Having appeared in a total of 127 games in pieces of three Major League seasons before 2009, Morales busted out with a tremendous second half for the AL West champions that year.

His defense also improved to the point that he'd become adept with the glove and equipped with a strong, accurate arm at first.

Rebounding from a slow start in 2010, he was hitting .290 as he launched his 11th homer on May 29, a walk-off grand slam that brought his RBI total to 39. In the afterglow of his game-winning blast that day against the Mariners at Angel Stadium, he experienced the numbing sensation of ecstasy transformed into agony.

"We're very comfortable he's going to be 100 percent by the start of the season."
-- Mike Scioscia, on Kendry Morales' return

It turned the Angels' season upside-down when Morales landed awkwardly on home plate amid a sea of teammates and shattered the area around his left ankle.

How devastating was the loss of the club's primary run producer?

"If we don't lose him," Scioscia said on Monday, "I think we make those last four games in Texas meaningful, that's for sure."

The Angels finished the season at 80-82, 10 games behind the AL West-winning Rangers.

Scioscia will go slowly and cautiously with Morales this spring, following the advice of the medical and training staffs. He knows how valuable his first baseman is for the long haul, and will do nothing to jeopardize Morales' recovery.

"We're very comfortable he's going to be 100 percent by the start of the season," Scioscia said, remaining upbeat. "We're holding him back on fielding because there's no need for that now. He's non-inhibited from either side swinging the bat.

"It's not like he's missed two seasons. If you miss the offeason and, say, miss [a total of] seven months, I don't think it's that great a difference. You don't lose the ability to catch up to a fastball."

Morales, who agreed to a one-year deal worth $2.975 million in January to avoid arbitration, can earn a $50,000 bonus for 550 plate appearances.

Scioscia is hoping Morales reaches that incentive and goes beyond it.

Before he was cleared to start jogging, Morales had been doing physical therapy six times a week and getting his conditioning in a pool. He said he has put on 10 to 15 pounds, but will trim down when he's able to start running full speed.

"I'm definitely eager, but I can't go crazy," he said, referring to the pace of his comeback. "I know I had a very difficult injury. I have to follow all the steps."

Small, sure steps can be the beginning of long, memorable journeys.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.