Cardinals continue to follow prudent approach with Ankiel

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Cardinals left-hander Rick Ankiel, who hasn't pitched since March 3, still has some work to do before he's ready to begin a rehab assignment.

Pitching coach Dave Duncan said Monday that Ankiel, 22, would need to throw at least two more times in the bullpen before the team makes a decision on what to do next. Ankiel has been sidelined since suffering from tendinitis in his lone spring training start and is scheduled to throw Tuesday and Thursday in what manager Tony La Russa termed a "progressive program."

"There's no real way to put a timetable on him," Duncan said. "You're just watching him, evaluating him, trying to get a feel for when is the right time to take it to the next step. But it won't be too long before he'll be out there pitching."

Ankiel has thrown twice in the bullpen in recent days and Duncan said he was much improved the second time out, so that's encouraging news.

"He's was altogether better -- more comfortable, more relaxed," Duncan said. "You could tell it was a step forward. If you can keep making those steps, I think he's going to tell us he's ready."

Ankiel has been pain-free for a few weeks. The biggest hurdle for him to clear is getting confidence to throw his curveball.

"He really hasn't thrown that many breaking balls," Duncan said. "He still has a little uncertainty about his arm, so he's got to go through the process of spinning the ball."

It's been slow going for Ankiel because the team wanted the pain to be gone before he resumed throwing, and by that time his arm was out of shape.

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