It’s been 17 years since Rick Ankiel reinvented himself as a strong-armed, major league outfielder after suddenly losing his control as a pitcher.
The left-hander, who made his big league debut as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, announced during the team’s post-game telecast on Fox Sports Midwest that he’s ready to reinvent himself once again. He says his fastball, sinker and true curve translate well to the today’s power game.
“When you take a look at baseball, the game has swung back around to my style of pitching,” he said on FSM. “We talk about the big curveball, the fastballs up, so I feel like why not come back as a lefty reliever and put one more chapter on the book.”
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Ankiel was drafted by the Cardinals in the second round of the 1997 MLB Draft out of Port St. Lucie High School in Florida and made his big league debut barely two years late at age 19. But he established himself in 2000, going 11-7 with a 3.50 ERA and striking out 194 batters in 175 innings.
Ankiel went 3-0 during a September stretch drive, helping the Cardinals to a first-place finish in the National League Central Division and inserting himself into the conversation for NL Rookie of the Year. He finished second to Atlanta’s Rafael Furcal.
But Ankiel lost his composure in the divisional series after manager Tony LaRussa tabbed him as the Game 1 starter against the Braves ‘ eventual Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. In the third inning, he allowed four runs, walking four along the way and throwing five wild pitches. Ankiel was yanked in the first inning of his next start, Game 2 of the NLCS.
He never regained his control and, after getting off a disastrous start to the 2001 season, Ankiel walked away from the pitcher’s mound.
His improbable big-league return came three years later when he belted 11 home runs with 39 RBIs in just 47 games as an outfielder.
Ankiel wrapped up an 11-year career with three different teams in 2013, batting .240 with 76 home runs. He hasn’t played since. Last week in the Bluegrass World Series, an annual exhibition of former major leaguers and college all-stars held in Louisville, Kentucky, the pitcher-turned-outfielder took the mound and struck out the only batter he faced.
He reached 90 mph on the Louisville Slugger Stadium radar while also getting a pair of hits. It was days later that he said on FSM that he was “toying” with the idea of a return.
He told USA Today that he weighed the pros and cons of a comeback attempt and couldn’t come up with a single reason not to give it a shot if he can “control the anxiety, which I think I can.”