Rick Ankiel, still fresh off his flight from Akron, hopped up the dugout stairs this afternoon to stretch with his teammates. “Little Ricky’s back!” third base coach Bo Porter said, standing next to the steps. “Let’s do it,” Ankiel responded.
Ankiel, though, will have to wait at least a day until he returns to the Nationals lineup after the team reinstated him from the disabled list to take Adam LaRoche’s spot. Manager Jim Riggleman wants to ease Ankiel back into the lineup.
Ankiel has not played since May 2, when he sprained his right wrist making a diving catch. He played five innings and seven innings in two extended spring training games, and yesterday he played in his only minor league rehab assignment, going 0 for 4 with four strikeouts with Class AA Harrisburg.
“He feels 100 percent, but there’s some rust there,” Riggleman said. “He hasn’t played much baseball in the last three weeks here.”
Ankiel said he’s ready whenever the Nationals want him to play. “I feel good,” Ankiel said. “Went down there, worked out, did what I needed to do. I’m happy I’m back. I’ve been paying attention to what’s going on up here.”
For tonight, Riggleman went with Brian Bixler in left field, Bixler’s first major league start in the outfield. Bixler said he’s comfortable in the outfield, having taken fly balls and read hits off the bat during batting practice, he said, every day for the past two or three years.
“That’s what I’ve been preparing for, days like this when I get a spot start,” Bixler said.
Riggleman chose Bixler over Laynce Nix because Nix has a minor injury to his left foot. Last night, Nix, wearing an ice bag on his foot, said he felt fine. Riggleman said Nix could pinch-hit tonight and expects him to be back in the lineup tomorrow.
With Michael Morse and first base and Jerry Hairston receiving regular action at third, the Nationals have a dearth of right-handed outfield options. Nix, Ankiel and Roger Bernadina have the most experience, and they’re all left-handed.
“Sometimes, we overthink this stuff,” Riggleman said. “We probably, like most clubs, put right-handers versus left-handers and vice-versa. A lot of times, those left-handed pitchers don’t even want to face the left-handed hitters. A lot of times, if you’re a left-handed hitter, if you’re going to get three or four at-bats against them, it starts to get fairly comfortable. I think our guys have seen enough left-handed pitching.”
Yesterday, Riggleman mentioned Ankiel as a possible part-time replacement for Adam LaRoche at first base. He has never played first base before in the majors, but Ankiel has been taking groundballs at first during the offseason.
“I’ve been over there messing around, trying to get some work in,” Ankiel said. “I mean, I’m familiar enough.”