WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 16: Rick Ankiel #24 of the Washington Nationals makes a diving catch against Drew Stubbs #6 (not pictured) of the Cincinnati Reds at Nationals Park on August 16, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
The Washington Nationals signed 31-year-old left-handed hitting outfielder Rick Ankiel to a one-year/$1.5M dollar deal with incentives last December. The Nats brought the former St. Louis Cardinals' 1997 2nd Round pick in to compete with Roger Bernadina for playing time in left field in the nation's capital as MLB.com's Bill Ladson wrote at the time in an article entitled, "Ankiel lands one-year contract with Nationals", in which he reported that a source told him, "Washington has not ruled out Ankiel competing against Nyjer Morgan in center field," as well. Ankiel would end up spending more time in center than any other outfielder on the Nationals' 2011 roster.
Former Atlanta Braves' Manager Bobby Cox told FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal last August in an article entitled, "Fielder may be hard for Brewers to trade", that Ankiel, "...has the best outfield arm he has ever seen — better than Rocky Colavito, Ellis Valentine, Bill Robinson, you name ‘em." Cox said it was hard for him to say, because of his respect for Colavito, "'But I’ve never seen anybody throw like [Ankiel], " Mr. Cox told the FOXSports.com writer. The future Hall of Fame manager was not exaggerating.
Ankiel missed time with injuries in 2010, playing 74 games total between the Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves in which he posted a combined .232/.321/.389 slash line in 211 at bats, with 13 doubles and 6 HR's. Ankiel ended up playing in 122 games in 2011, hitting 20 doubles and nine home runs while posting a .239/.296/.363 slash with the Nationals. Ankiel made just one error in the outfield in 2011, had eight outfield assists, a .996 fld%, and a career-high +11.6 UZR/150 in center.
Ankiel suffered a strain of his intercostal muscle and went on the DL for two weeks starting on June 14th. While Ankiel was out of the lineup, Roger Bernadina collected hits in seven-straight games, and finished the month of June 27 for 97 with two doubles, three home runs and a .278/.327/.412 slash. When Ankiel returned to the lineup on July 1st, Davey Johnson declared that he'd be doing so as a backup behind Bernadina. "I have a lot of confidence in all the guys," Davey Johnson told reporters, "but, [Bernadina] deserves a chance to play every day, and I'm going to give it to him."
Bernadina had a .214/.305/.310 July while Ankiel heated up with the bat, collecting hits in 18 of 63 plate appearances (.327/.387/.491), doubling three times and connecting for two home runs over a 25-game stretch. "Ever since he came back off the disabled list he's swung the bat really good," Davey Johnson told reporters after Ankiel hit two home runs in a 5-3 win over the Braves on August 1st, "And he plays a great defense, so he's giving you a little more than what you'd expect from a leadoff hitter, and it's nice."
"One thing, he's getting to play," Johnson explained as he continued to talk about Ankiel's year. "It's awfully hard to sit, especially if you're capable of being a power hitter like he is, when you get one, two starts maybe every week, and now he's getting a regular diet in there. He's cut down on his strikeouts, his swings are better, and that comes with playing. In the last couple years, I don't think he's played much." Ankiel would collect hits in 40 of his final 180 plate appearances with Washington in 2011, posting a .237/.283/.361 slash with nine doubles, four home runs, 11 walks and 45 K's in the final 48 games of his first season in the nation's capital.
Will Ankiel be back? The Nationals have talked about adding an outfield bat since the season ended. Davey Johnson's assessment of what had Ankiel hitting so well for a stretch after his return from the DL this season doesn't exactly endorse the idea of Ankiel as a fourth outfielder. Ankiel, who'll turn 33 next July, expressed a desire to return to the Nationals next season, telling MLB.com's Bill Ladson in an article entitled, "Ankiel wants to return to Nationals", that he wants to be part of what Washington is building, "'I think more than anything, as a player who has been around, you want to win and this organization is definitely going in that direction.'" Should the Nationals bring Rick Ankiel back?
• Before you answer...
• Read Doghouse's post on Ankiel's place among the best CFer's in Nats' history.
• Watch "The Arm In Action." Rick Ankiel's Top 3 Defensive Plays of 2011:
3. Don't Run On The Arm, Jeff Baker 7/7/11:
• Our original call of play from 7/7/11 Game Report "Ankiel's back out in center in the top of the fifth when Cubs' pinch hitter Jeff Baker tries to stretch a single into a double, and it's a bad idea. Ankiel's throw beats him to the bag and Danny Espinosa just waits to apply the tag. "You're out." 8-0 Nationals after five innings in Nats Park."
2. Silly, Bay. Don't Run On The Arm! 7/29/11:
• Our original call of play from 7/29/11 Game Report: "Ronny Paulino lines to right in the next at bat, but Jayson Werth misplays it and Bay hesitates, then decides to try to score. Rick Ankiel backs up and picks up after Werth and throws home, "You're OUT!" Ankiel nails Bay. Not even close."
1. The Throw: Poor Dave Sappelt Should've Had A Triple 8/28/11:
• Our original call of the play: "Wow!"