By R.B. FALLSTROM ~ AP Sports Writer

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Despite offseason treatment for a heel injury that hindered him much of last season, St. Louis Cardinals star Albert Pujols says the pain has returned.

Pujols, third in the NL MVP voting last year behind Barry Bonds and Adrian Beltre, underwent sound wave treatment for chronic plantar fasciitis on his left heel after the season. He had been feeling much better in the weeks after the treatment, but began experiencing trouble again about a week ago.

Team doctors had planned for Pujols to undergo more than one treatment but he had been feeling so good the team hadn't thought there was a need.

"It's still bothering me," Pujols said Monday. "It's something I'm pretty sure I'm going to go through again this year because it's too late for surgery. I don't want to miss spring training, and I don't want to miss the first month and a half of the season."

Pujols, 25, batted .331 with 46 home runs and 123 RBIs last season, and had 51 doubles for the second straight year. He's the only player in major league history to hit 30 or more homers in his first four seasons.

Pujols said the heel isn't as painful as it was during the season.

"But at the same time I'm not playing baseball," he said. "Hopefully, it gets better and we go from there."

If he has to undergo the treatment during the season, Pujols said he might miss two or three games. But he said that would be a small price to pay.

"I'm telling you I'm not going to go through the same thing I went through last year," Pujols said. "I don't think my body can handle that in back to back years."

Despite his numbers, Pujols said it was difficult to play with the injury.

"Only God knows and myself, how much pain I was playing in," he said. "It's over, I went through it and that's something I don't want to experience again."

The first treatment for his heel was such a success that Pujols was able to play golf just a few days later. He was just as encouraged about being able to climb out of bed without a sudden jolt of pain.

"It was real good," Pujols said. "Hopefully, the next treatment will get it better."

In any case, Pujols said he won't allow the injury to hold him back.

"I'll be ready to go for spring training, no matter what, I can tell you that for sure," he said. "I'm not going to back off."

Notes: Pujols appeared on the final day of the Cardinals' sold-out three-day Winter Warmup. Fans paid $35 apiece for 12,000 all-event passes, plus more than 300 fans paid as much as $95 more for a Pujols autograph. "It was unbelievable," new shortstop David Eckstein said. "That was something I've never seen before. Out in Anaheim we really didn't have anything like this." New LHP Mark Mulder also was impressed. "The entire lobby was red," Mulder said. "It's fun to see and it's exciting to be a part of it." ... Last year, the Warmup raised $600,000 for Cardinals Care, the team's charitable foundation. "The kids of our community are the real winners," said Tim Hanser, director of Cardinals Care. "It was a fantastic turnout of fans who celebrated a great Cardinal year and great Cardinal tradition." ... RHP Jason Marquis, coming off a career-best regular season and a shaky postseason, avoided arbitration when he agreed to a $3 million, one-year contract.