Johnson's advice to Ankiel: Relax

VIERA, Fla. - Nationals manager Davey Johnson hopes that a more relaxed approach at the plate will pay dividends for veteran outfielder Rick Ankiel.

Last year, Ankiel batted .239 with nine homers and 37 RBIs in 122 games with the Nationals, beginning the season as their starting center fielder. This year, Ankiel's role is a little less clear. The Nationals signed him to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training, and he'll either get time in center field if Bryce Harper doesn't make the 25-man roster or head north on the 25-man roster as a spare outfielder if Harper's in the mix.

During live batting practice today at Space Coast Stadium, Ankiel showed off a new batting stance he's worked on with hitting coach Rick Eckstein.

"Last year, he would hunch his shoulders up and he was doing that because he wanted to keep his swing tighter," Johnson said. "Rick's been working with (Ankiel) and he's feeling a lot more comfortable being in a more relaxed position. He feels his swing's still short, and it is. ... I think you're going to see a much better year out of him."

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