ST. LOUIS — The New York Mets signed Rick Ankiel and started him in center field on Monday night against the St. Louis Cardinals, the team that converted him from wild lefty to outfielder.
The 33-year-old Ankiel thought it a bit comforting that he returned to the majors in St. Louis,l where he arrived as a hard-throwing lefty starter in 1999 but couldn't control his pitches. He's been an outfielder since 2005 and hit a career-best 25 homers with 71 RBIs with St. Louis in 2008.
"Obviously, I've played here in Busch Stadium quite a bit, and it's just kind of ironic the first game back is here in St. Louis," Ankiel said. "But it'll be fun and I'm excited to get out there."
Ankiel said he'd been in contact with the Mets the last two days while at home in Fort Pierce, Fla., and admitted he hadn't been sure he'd get another shot. He hit .194 with five homers and 11 RBIs for Houston, which had signed him to a $750,000, one-year deal. He struck out 35 times in 65 at-bats with
"You don't know, you really don't," Ankiel said. "I figured I would, and I was hoping I would and it did."
Ankiel was designated for assignment by the Houston Astros last week and cleared waivers on Sunday.
"I thought it was quick but it is what it is," Ankiel said. "I wasn't happy about the inconsistency, but my power was there. But it was early and I hope I get that turned around."
The Mets made the somewhat surprising move given they'd struck out 28 times the previous two games and manager Terry Collins had expressed concern about the lack of contact. They lost the last three games of a 4-6 homestand in which they went 7 for 40 with runners in scoring position.
Collins thought getting a fresh start might click for Ankiel, as it has catcher John Buck. He planned on platooning the left-hand hitting Ankiel with Juan Legares, and planned on talking to Ankiel about his approach at the plate and point out the Mets already have plenty of power.
"Maybe a change of scenery right now is good for him and will get him going," Collins said. "Certainly his bat can be dangerous at times so we're anxious to get him in the lineup. We're hoping he helps us out."
Outfielder Andrew Brown was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas and right-hander Jenrry Mejia was transferred to the 60-day disabled list from the 15-day DL to make room on the 40-man roster.
Ankiel arrived at Busch Stadium about 3 1-2 hours before gametime and joked about meeting reporters before speaking with Collins.
"Certainly, coming here we don't have to worry about him not knowing the field, that's for sure, "Collins said. "Obviously, he's a great defender, we all know that, and if he doesn't have the strongest arm in the league he's got one of the top arms in all of baseball."
Ankiel was the Cardinals center fielder in May 2009 when he slammed into the wall at full speed on a running catch and ended up with whiplash and a shoulder injury. Manager Tony La Russa kept Ankiel's hat, bent in half, on a shelf in his office.
Ankiel is among four players in major league history to make at least 40 starts as a pitcher and hit 40 homers, with Babe Ruth the standout of that group.