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He’s back! (sorta): Albert Pujols activated, available off benchIf the disabled list were a game of Super Mario Brothers, this is the point where we'd see Albert Pujols(notes) finding a hidden warp zone back to the baseball diamond.

In my eyes, that's the best description of the amazing feat the St. Louis Cardinals superstar just pulled off. Two weeks ago, Pujols fractured his wrist, earning a 4-6 week diagnosis that left us wondering how the Cardinals could possibly cope.

And though Cards' officials warned that Pujols' recovery period could be on the longer side of that projection, he has already been cleared by doctors to rejoin the Cardinals in their contention for the NL Central. Pujols was activated on Tuesday afternoon ahead of the team's tilt with the Cincinnati Reds. He won't start, but will be available for pinch-hit duty off the bench.

Amazing. I'll now take this opportunity to send an email to the fella who offered Chris Perez(notes) and Craig Kimbrel(notes) for Pujols in my fantasy keeper league.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Pujols insisted Monday that he is able to swing without discomfort. He said he has hit off a machine throwing 89 or 90 miles per hour.

[Manager Tony] La Russa has stayed abreast of Pujols' progress. He acknowledged Monday there was no reason for Pujols to go on a rehab assignment once cleared by doctors.

"You listen to the experts. You listen to him because you trust him," La Russa said. "If he's ready, there's no need to wait. Most of all, you listen to him because he's going to know best."

Pujols has declared himself pain-free: "If I felt any pain, I wouldn't be swinging," he said Monday.

Whether or not the Cardinals should have give Pujols an extra week plus the All-Star break to recover is a topic that could remain up for debate. But his impending, extra-early return time underscores 1) Pujols' drive and 2) the incredibly close division race. Though the Cardinals actually gained a game in the standings over the past two weeks, it's still going to come down to the wire with the Brewers, Reds and, yes, even the Pirates. Any additional games St. Louis can get from Pujols are an added advantage.

Of course, they're only an advantage if Pujols is healthy enough to contribute. But given that they're still willing to slow-play the remarkable medical clearance, it seems like they're willing to wait until they're 100 percent sure.

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