Sunday, February 16, 2003

Cards move Ankiel to bullpen

The Associated Press

JUPITER, Fla. - Rick Ankiel just wants another chance to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals, even if that means coming out of the bullpen.

Ankiel, who missed all of last season with an elbow injury and struggled in the past with wildness, has been shifted from a starter to a reliever in a move meant to ease the pressure on him.

"I'm healthy and I'm happy," with the change, Ankiel said Saturday as the Cardinals opened spring training. "It's a trial, but I guess maybe it's normal to go to the bullpen coming off an injury."

Once one of the most promising young left-handers in baseball, Ankiel has not been able to overcome an embarrassing bout of wildness in the 2000 playoffs.

But Cardinals manager Tony La Russa believes Ankiel could find success pitching in relief, saying his new role "could give us the best left-handed bullpen we've had since we've been here."

Ankiel joins left-handers Steve Kline, Jeff Fassero and Lance Painter coming out of the St. Louis bullpen.

"(Ankiel's) excited. It will be a fun role for him," La Russa said. "The preparation is different. Instead of getting ready to throw 100 to 120 pitches once every five days, he'll be asked to throw 15 to 20 pitches several times a week."

Being a starter "can be a lot of pressure for a young player," La Russa said. "Now, he'll be a piece of the game but a very important piece."

The 23-year-old Ankiel won 11 games as a rookie in 2000 but has struggled with his health and control since. He last pitched in the majors in May 2001.

He left his only spring training start last year after only two innings because of tendinitis.

"With 33 pitchers here, there should be some good competition," Ankiel said. "I think I will like the chance to work more often than once every five days. I just want to be somewhere in the mix."

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