Ankiel returns to Cardinals today, may see postseason

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- Rick Ankiel returns to the major leagues today and it might not be a September cameo.

The left-hander, who'll be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday, has been impressive enough during a rehab from reconstructive elbow surgery that he'll be considered for the postseason roster. Manager Tony La Russa said he'd use Ankiel, who last pitched in the majors in 2001, in relief or use him as a spot starter to rest members of the rotation heading into the playoffs.

Asked if Ankiel, 25, was a candidate to pitch in the postseason, La Russa replied: "Yeah, sure, absolutely."

The Cardinals began a three-game series against the San Diego Padres with a 14 1-2-game lead in the NL Central and a magic number of 18 for clinching the division.

La Russa said he'd treat Ankiel, who reached the majors at age 19 before being derailed by wildness and injuries, much like he did Matt Morris in 2000 when the right-hander was coming off reconstructive elbow surgery. In other words, he won't base everything on Ankiel's performance this month.

"The fairest thing is like Matt coming of that injury, it's what happened the next year," La Russa said. "That's really the fairest way to look at Rick.

"What you've got here is a bonus, for him and for us."

La Russa said there's a chance both Ankiel and Dan Haren, the staff ace at Triple-A Memphis most of the season, can be on the postseason roster. One spot could open if left-handed reliever Steve Kline, on the disabled list with a groin injury since Saturday, is unable to return.

La Russa said, though, that he expects Kline to be ready.

Ankiel was 11-7 with a 3.50 ERA in 2000, leading the staff with 194 strikeouts in 175 innings. His career took a drastic turn for the worse in the playoffs when he threw eight wild pitches in two games.

He missed the entire 2002 season with a sprained elbow and was 2-6 with a 6.29 ERA at Double-A Tennessee last year before tearing an elbow ligament in July. He began his comeback at Class A Palm Beach this year and in seven starts at three levels he was 2-1 with an 0.79 ERA.

In 22 2-3 innings, he walked two and hit one, and he did not throw a wild pitch.

Ankiel was expected to join the Cardinals on Tuesday. La Russa expected a more mature pitcher.

"He's calendar years older, and he's gone through a lot. You build some steel that way."

La Russa said the Cardinals wouldn't take special steps to shield Ankiel from the media, but said the pitcher likely would prefer to deal with his comeback in one news conference.

"A lot of it depends on what Rick wants to do," La Russa said. "If he asks my opinion I'd say you ought to give everybody a shot to ask you whatever they want one time and then after that I'd try to resurrect my career.

"And I wouldn't be real nice about it."

La Russa doesn't anticipate a large contingent of minor league callups will accompany the return of Ankiel. Outfielder Ray Lankford will be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday after a rehab from a wrist injury, and catcher Cody McKay will be recalled from Triple-A Memphis.

On Tuesday, the Cardinals recalled Haren from Memphis and outrighted reliever Al Reyes to Class A Palm Beach. That move makes Haren, who was 2-2 with a 7.03 ERA in seven games and made three spot starts, eligible for postseason play.

La Russa said some minor leaguers that may deserve a September callup might not get it this year. When he rests his regulars, La Russa wants to get more playing time for backups Marlon Anderson, Roger Cedeno, So Taguchi and Hector Luna.

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