The St. Louis Cardinals announced Thursday afternoon the move for which fans have been waiting for weeks – the return of former pitcher Rick Ankiel to the Major Leagues as an outfielder.
Ankiel’s contract has been purchased from Triple-A Memphis and he is scheduled to be in Bench Coach Joe Pettini's familiar uniform number 24 as a starting rightfielder for Thursday night’s game against the San Diego Padres. (Pettini will be wearing Ankiel's old number 49.)
Ankiel is expected to see considerable time in right field over incumbent Juan Encarnacion, but is capable of spelling Jim Edmonds in centerfield as well.
The corresponding roster moves were made prior to the game, as Ankiel was added to both the 40-man and 25-man active rosters. Utilityman Scott Spiezio was placed on the restricted list to make room on the 25-man and pitcher Chris Carpenter was moved to the 60-day DL, which does not count against the 40-man limit.
Ankiel, 28, was batting .267 with a Pacific Coast League-leading 32 home runs and a .568 slugging percentage in 102 games in his first season of play at the Triple-A level. He is ranked in a tie for second among PCL RBI leaders with 89 and his 32 home runs are second among all minor league players this season.
The left-hander was the Cardinals second round draft selection (72nd player overall) in the June, 1997 draft. He reached the majors at the age of 20, making nine appearances in 1999, including his Major League debut in a start on August 23, 1999 at Montreal.
Ankiel was 11-7 with a 3.50 ERA in his rookie season of 2000, helping the Cardinals to the postseason, where he developed control problems that eventually led to his decision to retire as a pitcher in March of 2005. Ankiel was 13-10 with a 3.90 ERA in 51 career appearances as a pitcher and he also added two home runs, the last coming on April 26, 2000 vs. Milwaukee’s Steve Woodard.
Ankiel spent the 2001-04 seasons between the majors and minors, missing all of 2002 with an elbow injury that led to “Tommy John” ligament replacement surgery in July of 2003. He returned to the majors in 2004 and earned the win in relief on October 1 vs. Milwaukee – his first in the majors since April 8, 2001.
Ankiel played in 15 games for the Cardinals this spring, batting .267 with a home run and six RBI while playing center and right field. He missed all of the 2006 season after suffering a left knee injury in spring training.
In the past, Ankiel has exhausted all of his minor league options so cannot be returned to the minor leagues without first being exposed to waivers. As a result, it appears he will receive a Major League audition for the remainder of this season to help determine his 2008 role.
If enthusiastic fan support can do anything to help make the conclusion of Ankiel’s long journey more successful, he is set.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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