Ankiel back in majors, as outfielder, with Cardinals

By Jim Salter

ST. LOUIS – Rick Ankiel is back in the major leagues – as an outfielder.

The St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday purchased the contract of the 28-year-old pitcher-turned outfielder. Team spokesman Brian Bartow said Ankiel will be in uniform Thursday night when the Cardinals host San Diego.

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Considered one of baseball’s most promising young pitchers before uncontrollable wildness that emerged in a 2000 playoff game derailed his career, Ankiel last appeared in the major leagues in 2004.

Ankiel was hitting .267 with 32 homers and 89 runs batted in 102 games at Triple-A Memphis. He also struck out 90 times and had an on-base percentage of .314. Defensively, he had seven errors.

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    “The path he has taken to get back to the major leagues has been a long and difficult one,” Bartow said. “I know there will be a lot of people around here with goose bumps. He’s been one of the most popular players in the clubhouse and around the organization since he first arrived.”

    The Cardinals hope the left-handed-hitting Ankiel provides a boost for a team that finds itself only six games out of first place in the NL Central despite a 52-59 record. The Cardinals have not yet announced a roster move to clear a spot for Ankiel.

    Ankiel was drafted in the second round in 1997 and appeared on the verge of becoming one of baseball’s best young left-handers when he went 11-7 with a 3.50 earned run average and 194 strike outs in 2000, his rookie season. He earned the start in Game 1 of the playoffs against the Atlanta Braves.

    In one painful afternoon, things fell apart.

    Pitching with a big lead in the third inning, Ankiel walked four of eight hitters and threw a record five wild pitches, some bouncing off the backstop. In another playoff game that season against the Mets, he threw four more wild pitches in a brief appearance.

    He never recovered as a pitcher, going 1-2 in 2001 while trying to work through the wildness. After that, he pitched just 10 more innings in the major leagues.