Rick Ankiel, the Nationals’ center fielder of choice, was back at Nationals Park on Saturday, ready to make his season debut against the Cincinnati Reds. A tight left quadriceps has kept Ankiel from playing soon, landing him on the 15-day disabled list until now.
Ankiel said he feels “100 percent” and won’t be limited in the field or at plate. During batting practice, Ankiel appeared fine, even launching balls deep into the outfield and over the fence. He is batting seventh on Saturday.
“It feels good,” he said. “So you go out there and hope to get some good pitches to hit and hopefully some good results happen.”
Ankiel’s return adds another wrinkle to the Nationals ‘outfield configuration. Manager Davey Johnson has eyed Ankiel as his starting center fielder, which will limit Roger Bernadina’s playing time.
Bernadina, who has started every game at center field except for one up to Saturday, could see some playing time in left field. Johnson has voiced his support of Bernadina, saying he hasn’t given up on him yet and still sees potential in him.
“I’ll probably do what I have been doing in the past, use more of a right hand-hitting lineup against a left-hander,” Johnson said. “It’s a work in progress still about who gets the majority of the playing time in left. So there’s still basically three or three and half, with [Steve Lomardozzi] in that mix. Like I said, the players are going to tell me by their performance, by their past history, matchups.”
Johnson plans to use Ankiel every day despite his fewer swings ahead of his season debut. Ankiel, who has been working on a more relaxed approach at the plate, took only 15 at-bats during spring training and hit three homers and a double during 20 at-bats on his rehab assignments.
“I expect that every time the ball gets close, he’ll be swinging,” Johnson said. “He’s an aggressive hitter, great defender. It’s good to have him back.”
Ankiel also offered some insight into what may have gone wrong for Nationals cleanup hitter and slugger Michael Morse, who was shut down for six weeks when a right lat muscle injury flared up on Monday night in a minor league rehab appearance.
“It seemed like when we went to [Class A Hagerstown],” it got worse for Morse, Ankiel said. “It was really cold. I’m sure it was really tough for him to stay loose and he had a play there where he had to make a longer throw and I think that’s probably where he got sore.”