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3/2/2014 7:30 P.M. ET

Blanton pitches 2 1/3 innings with increased deception

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Joe Blanton's wide-ranging mechanical tweaks over the offseason and into the spring have centered mostly on re-establishing his deception, which is why Mike Scioscia called a rough first outing on Sunday "a step forward" nonetheless.

"It looked like he had better deception," Scioscia said. "It looked like the ball was down, and definitely his fastball-changeup combo was in play."

Blanton, with $8.5 million left on his contract and an uncertain future with the team, gave up a single to Jed Lowrie, a single to Josh Donaldson and a two-run double to Yoenis Cespedes to start his outing in the fifth. But the 33-year-old right-hander retired seven of the next eight batters he faced, walking one and striking out two to finish on a positive note.

Blanton is focusing on once again rocking back in his delivery, which makes it tougher for hitters to pick up the ball from his hand, and Scioscia is at least seeing that come into play.

"You can see him staying closed a little longer and I think he's hiding the ball a little bit better," Scioscia said. "He's working hard to get back to where he can be."

Pujols feels great, expects heavy spring workload

TEMPE, Ariz. -- So far, so good for Albert Pujols and his hopes for a healthy season.

"Knock on wood, everything feels great," the Angels' first baseman said Sunday morning, searching for some wood to literally knock. "I'm really happy with how I feel."

Pujols, coming off a season that ended after 99 pain-filled games on July 26, started at first base in two of the Angels' first three Cactus League games. His left foot, hindered by plantar fasciitis starting in the second week of Spring Training last year, is no longer an issue. His right knee, still recovering from arthroscopic surgery as the 2013 season went on, is perfectly healthy. And any soreness he's had in the first few days of camp is causing no conern.

Angers manager Mike Scioscia said Pujols is "moving as well as he has in four or five years."

"I feel really good, man," Pujols said. "I'm happy. I'm moving good. Hopefully just get better and better every day, stronger."

Pujols expects to get a lot of time at first base this spring.

"I don't know if it's going to be every day, but pretty much -- as much as I can," Pujols said. "I'm pretty sure it's going to be a lot that I'm going to be playing first here."

The 34-year-old understands he won't be playing 162 games at first base during the regular season, even if he remains 100 percent all summer. There are Sunday afternoon games that follow Saturday nights, long road trips, first games in new cities after long flights.

Pujols doesn't have a number in his head for how many games he wants to play his position this year, but if he continues to feel like this, he expects to do so "95 percent of the time."

"I'm just going to do what my body's telling me," he said. "Go out there and play. I'm getting paid to play, and I try to do the best I can to help this organization to win."

Aybar projects for bottom of Angels' batting order

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Kole Calhoun had the day off Sunday, so Erick Aybar was in the leadoff spot for the Angels' home game against the A's.

If only he could stay there.

"I'd love to, because you're batting directly in front of people that can bring you in," the Angels' switch-hitting shortstop said in Spanish. "But I don't make that decision; the manager does. When I'm playing, I have no complaints about batting first or second, eighth or ninth. I just want to play."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia admitted Aybar is "more of a matchup guy" at the leadoff spot at this point. He has the speed and is a good bunter, but Aybar's career .317 on-base percentage, not to mention the .301 mark he finished with last season, will probably keep him batting eighth or ninth for most of the 2014 season.

Since Aybar doesn't walk a lot, he needs to be in a good groove offensively to get on base.

"Erick's on-base hasn't been horrible," Scioscia said. "Some years it's been down. But I think, overall, Erick's a guy who gets on base. He bunts a lot and manages to set the table. He's more of a matchup guy to hit up top, but he gets on base enough when he's going right."

Worth noting

Dane De La Rosa pitched a scoreless fourth inning Sunday, striking out three batters and walking three batters. No Angels pitcher has done that in the regular season since at least 1984, according to research by the Angels' public relations department.

Josh Hamilton, who strained his left calf on Tuesday, "has made a lot of progress in the last couple days," Scioscia said Sunday. Hamilton continues to hit and throw off one knee.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.