VIERA, Fla. - There's a chance two-thirds of the Nationals' projected starting outfield is on the disabled list come opening day.
Manager Davey Johnson said following today's 6-2 loss to the Cardinals that center fielder Rick Ankiel might open the season on the disabled list because of a lingering quad injury which has kept him out of action for the bulk of spring.
Ankiel, who has just 15 at-bats this spring, hasn't played since re-aggravating the quad on Tuesday, and if he's unable to return to the Nationals' lineup in one of their three remaining exhibition games, Johnson said the Nats might opt to have Ankiel start by making a rehab assignment with Double-A Harrisburg. The Senators open the season by playing four games at Bowie.
"If he didn't get some at-bats the last couple days, we might have to re-evaluate, just to be on the safe side, to start the season," Johnson said.
If Ankiel isn't available to open the regular season, he would join left fielder Michael Morse on the DL. Morse has been unable to play the last few weeks because of a strained lat.
The Nationals could place Ankiel on the DL backdated to March 27 - the last time he played in a Grapefruit League game - meaning he could rejoin the big league club as early as April 11.
Roger Bernadina would likely be the Nationals' opening day center fielder if Ankiel starts on the DL.
Ankiel said his recovery has been "a little slower than I expected or wanted it to be". He plans to take it day-by-day, but says he's going to play it careful going forward, as he'd rather miss a couple days to start the season than need to sit out a chunk of time if he tries to rush back.
"I don't think you ever want to put yourself in a position to miss more time than needed, so I think you take the time and get it right and move from there," Ankiel said. "(It's) just a little tight, and when you feel like that, you just don't want it to turn into something more than that. The key is just getting that out of there, and letting it feel fluid and feel good."
Ankiel said he thought the quad injury was behind him when he returned to the lineup on March 20 after a 10-day layoff, but felt it tighten up during Tuesday's game.
"There's always frustration when you're not able to get out there and do the things you want to do, but for me, instead of being frustrated, you just take it as it's part of it, and try to keep a good mindset," Ankiel said. "Stay positive and try to heal faster."
Johnson maintained that if Ankiel goes on the DL, the Nats do not expect to add a player via free agency or a trade. They've got their opening day 25 currently with them, even if Ankiel isn't among that group for the first few days of the season.
The guy that would suddenly appear to have a roster spot if Ankiel goes on the DL would be corner infielder Chad Tracy, who is hitting .254 this spring and leads the team in RBIs.