Center fielder Rick Ankiel will come off the disabled list Saturday, returning from a tight left quadriceps to reclaim the Nationals’ starting center field spot from Roger Bernadina. Ankiel played for Class AAA Syracuse last night in a rehab appearance and this afternoon he took early batting practice at Nationals Park.
“He’s in great shape,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “He had a great rehab program. Did awfully well. He’s still fine. He had a great workout with the boys. He looks good to go.”
The Nationals will wait until tonight, or before tomorrow’s game, to remove a player from their 40-man roster. The two most likely candidates are infielder Stephen Lombardozzi, a prospect with minor league options who could develop with more playing time, and reserve outfielder Brett Carroll, the only player yet to take multiple at-bats. Carroll would have to pass through waivers if the Nationals designated him.
Johnson plans on playing Ankiel on an every-day basis, even though he took only 15 at-bats during spring training. “I don’t see any limitations on him,” Johnson said. Ankiel hit three homers and a double during 20 at-bats on his rehab assignments, further validation of his new, relaxed approach at the plate that helps him the ball to all fields.
“I like him out there,” Johnson said. “He’s an outstanding defender. I liked him in spring, the limited time I got to see him. He’s using the whole field. He’s much more relaxed in the hitting position. He was much improved. I was really impressed with his set-up and his approach. I’m expecting an improved Rick Ankiel this year. Pretty much, he’s my center fielder.”
With Ankiel back in the outfield mix, Johnson has the option to play Mark DeRosa at first base and move Bernadina to left field. But it’s not likely that will happen often. Johnson had planned on platooning DeRosa with Adam LaRoche, but LaRoche’s surgically repaired shoulder has not been an issue and LaRoche has been perhaps the Nationals’ best hitter.
“That changed things,” Johnson said. “We might be by that.”
Including tonight, Bernadina has started seven of the Nationals’ first eight games. His playing time will dry up with Ankiel’s return, but “I haven’t given up on him yet,” Johnson said.
One last rehab note: Michael Morse is in Washington during his six-week shutdown period, but he does not want to hang around at Nationals Park while teammates and media filter in before games. He told Johnson, “I hate it when guys on the DL are in the clubhouse.” So that’s why Morse hasn’t been heard from.