Ankiel, signed to a minor league deal this offseason, is set to be the Nats’ opening day center fielder, if healthy.
“He had a nice year for us last year,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “He’s a terrific teammate to have around and his defense kind of spoke for itself last year. We feel really good where he’s at with the bat right now. He’s put in a lot of time with Rick (Eckstein, hitting coach) and Davey (Johnson) and I see his hands freed up in his swing and he’s being a lot more aggressive in covering the whole plate instead of just the inner half.”
Ankiel has been working on taking a more relaxed approach at the plate this spring, and the Nats have been pleased with the results.
The issue now with the 32-year-old is his lingering quad injury, which has been bothering him much of camp. Ankiel originally missed 11 days because of the quad mid-way through camp, and then returned to action March 20 and played four games in five days.
But the quad started acting up again, and Ankiel had to be pulled from the Nats game against the Marlins on Tuesday after the fourth inning when he felt the quad tighten up. He’s been doing some light hitting in the cages recently, but hasn’t been able to return to Grapefruit League games.
“I’m a little concerned about Ank,” Johnson said. “His hitting approach is so much better this spring than at any time last year, so I don’t want any relapses there or setbacks there when he’s roaming the outfield.”
Johnson had originally hoped to get Ankiel in the lineup tomorrow against the Cardinals, but that doesn’t look like it will happen.
“I’m not real sure of that and I’m not going to rush that,” Johnson said. “I need for him to tell me he’s not feeling it. We need to get by it, and if it takes a week or whatever it takes, I’m comfortable with that.”
Johnson said that if Ankiel is not healthy, Roger Bernadina is his second option in center field. With both Ankiel and Bernadina unavailable today (Bernadina’s father’s funeral was earlier today), Jayson Werth has slid over to center for tonight’s game against the Marlins.
With the addition of Ankiel, the Nats’ 40-man roster now includes 39 players.