4/23/2014 7:31 P.M. ET
Santiago has been dealing with back issue
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
WASHINGTON -- Hector Santiago got through an entire start on Sunday without any flare-ups in his back, and that was an encouraging sign for the 26-year-old left-hander.
It was also a first.
Santiago revealed on Wednesday that he began feeling pain in the middle of his back when he took the mound for his last Spring Training start, against the Dodgers on March 27. It continued through his first two outings of the regular season, then he experienced intermittent pain when he pitched against the A's on April 14.
"It was bad," Santiago said. "The day of the crosstown series, against the Dodgers, every pitch I threw was aching me. Every single pitch I threw, I was like, 'Oh my God, this is not good. The season's about to start.'"
Santiago was fine in the first two innings of his 2014 debut, but the back acted up in the third, and Santiago was pulled after throwing just 83 pitches in five-plus innings, eventually being charged with four earned runs.
"Velocity-wise, command-wise, I wasn't using my lower half at all," Santiago said.
The back then hurt him for most of his April 8 start against the Mariners, when he gave up four runs in 4 1/3 innings, but got a little better, minus two separate flare-ups, when he pitched seven innings of one-run ball his third time out. And while getting charged with two unearned runs in 5 2/3 innings in his most recent outing against the Tigers at Comerica Park, he didn't feel it at all.
"It didn't even cross my mind when I was out there, at all," said Santiago, who kept the ailment under wraps until being asked about it Wednesday.
Santiago has never missed time on the disabled list and said he had never experienced back pain until about three weeks ago. He believes it stemmed from driving a U-Haul truck from Arizona to Southern California just before Opening Day. And he spent most of the first three weeks in the trainer's room, getting heat, stem-cell therapy and "doing a lot of stretching."
"I just kept aggravating it and throwing, and doing all the workouts and stuff," Santiago said. "It went on for longer than I wanted it to.
"It's been fine of late, so hopefully it doesn't come back, because back problems are the worst thing. Once you get a back problem, you're like shut down."
Pujols: 500 milestone hasn't quite sunk in yet
WASHINGTON -- Albert Pujols typically isn't a very good sleeper, and he had no chance of getting a good night's rest on Tuesday.
David Ortiz called him at 2:30 a.m. ET. His phone kept buzzing throughout the night with congratulatory text messages, including one from Derek Jeter. Tony La Russa spoke to him for 25 minutes, mostly reminiscing about the year he made the team in 2001. Oh, and there was that big adrenaline high he couldn't come out of, after becoming the 26th member of the hallowed 500-home run club.
All told, Pujols got about three hours of sleep.
"It's OK," he said, smiling. "I've missed sleep many times in my career."
The moment hadn't really hit him yet, though.
"Not yet," Pujols said before Wednesday's series finale at Nationals Park. "Not yet. A.J. [his oldest son] was asking me a lot of questions last night, when I was talking to him. I'm pretty sure when I get around my family more, and when I call friends to catch up and tell them, 'Thanks for the help,' it's going to catch up."
Pujols hasn't decided what he'll donate to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but he'll keep the baseball that went out for his 500th homer and display it somewhere in his trophy room. As for the bat? He's going to continue to use it, because it's hard to let go of a bat that was responsible for two home runs -- the two home runs that made Pujols the first player to hit Nos. 499 and 500 on the same day.
"I'll talk to the family and see what they want," Pujols said. "My family is most important."
Three moments still resonated with Pujols from Tuesday night: Circling the bases and "thanking the Lord" after his historic, fifth-inning two-run homer against Taylor Jordan; picking his head up before he crossed home plate and seeing all of his teammates gathered around the batter's box; and returning to the clubhouse after on-field interviews and seeing all of his teammates waiting for him again, to congratulate him one more time.
"Those moments are pretty special," Pujols said. "I have some special moments in my career, and I told them last night this is one of them, but nothing tastes better than raising the championship trophy at the end. Hopefully we can get that opportunity this year. That'd be sweeter than what happened last night."
To eventually be the ninth member of the 600-home run club, all Pujols would have to do from now until the end of his contract -- from 2014-21 -- is average 13.5 homers per season. To reach 700, the 34-year-old first baseman would have to average 26 home runs a year.
Not surprisingly, he isn't getting ahead of himself.
"My goal is still going to be the same goal I've had from Day One, and that's about winning and taking care of 25 guys here and representing this name across my chest," Pujols said. "Before you get to 700, you need to get to 501 and 600. So you can't go all the way to 700 in one at-bat. I don't play for numbers. I play to try to win championships."
Ibanez working on bunting against shift
WASHINGTON -- Raul Ibanez hasn't had a bunt single since 2003, but he remains determined to use the bunt as a weapon against the shift.
He's 0-for-2 so far, but isn't stopping.
"I worked on that in Spring Training," Ibanez said. "Yeah, I'm going to continue to do that. And hopefully I'll do it better, too. It kind of goes against every rule that you've ever learned about bunting, because you have to bunt it hard. I've got the right angle on it, but I keep catching it off the end of the bat, like you were taught coming up through the Minor Leagues."
Ibanez, batting .152/.211/.318 through his first 18 games, has only five bunt hits in his 19-year career, but wants to try it more frequently this season with third base completely open when he comes to bat -- both as a way to get on base and a mechanism to keep teams from over-shifting him towards right field.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia believes Ibanez has "a little too much touch" right now, but is fine with him continuing to try.
"If you're a golfer and you hit it 400 yards, doesn't mean you don't have to practice a sand wedge," Scioscia said. "There are things Raul will have to do in a game. If we need a baserunner in the eighth inning, and if he can just put the bunt down and walk to first base, that's a very high percentage play for him to get on base."
• To commemorate Pujols' 500th home run, the Angels will distribute a commemorative bobblehead for the May 21 game against the Astros "while supplies last." The bobblehead will depict Pujols pointing to the sky, with "500" in gold.
• Angels relievers Sean Burnett (recovery from August elbow surgery) and Dane De La Rosa (right shoulder irritation) are both slated to throw in a simulated game in Arizona on Thursday.
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.