Ankiel's emergence comes at expense of Encarnacion

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

St. Louis' right fielder is upset that his manager hasn't spoken to him about less playing time.

ST. LOUIS -- Rick Ankiel's first four games as a major league outfielder is a feel-good story for everybody but Juan Encarnacion.

The St. Louis Cardinals right fielder has been the odd man out since Ankiel's recall Thursday. He was not in the lineup the first three games, with Ankiel manning his position, and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa scratched him because of a knee injury about an hour before Sunday's game -- even though Encarnacion said he could have played.

Encarnacion also is unhappy after reading in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that La Russa criticized him, saying "There are parts of the game he can play better," and in discovering his playing time has been cut by looking at the lineup card instead of in a discussion with the manager.

Encarnacion is happy for Ankiel, the former pitcher who was 6-for-16 with three homers and six RBIs and got his fourth straight start against left-handed starter Mark Hendrickson of the Dodgers while the right-handed hitting Encarnacion watched from the bench. But he contends that La Russa should have aired his concerns in private.

"I've heard he's talked about it in the paper, the issue," Encarnacion said.

Encarnacion's playing style has been described as effortless or worse. In his last start Wednesday, he glided to a ball on a single that spun away from him and rolled to the wall for a two-base error.

"You're trying to do the best you can the whole time, and you see things like that, it makes you mad," Encarnacion said. "It hurt my feelings when your manager says you don't give the effort."

Encarnacion, who was scheduled to undergo an MRI exam on his right knee Monday, is in the second year of a three-year, $15 million free agent deal. He's batting .290 with seven home runs and 43 RBIs in 69 games, down from last year when he hit .278 with 19 homers and 79 RBIs.

The lower production is mitigated by offseason wrist surgery that delayed his debut until mid-May.

La Russa raised Encarnacion's name in discussions near the trade deadline last month when the Cardinals appeared to be out of the NL Central race and perhaps ready to jettison players.

Encarnacion also spent the last three games of the World Series on the bench after the wrist injury hampered his swing and limited him to a .186 average in the postseason, a downward trend after he batted .225 the final month of the season.

He's seeking a clarification of his role.

"I don't know what's going on," Encarnacion said. "At some point, I just want to know exactly what's going on. I'm used to playing."

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