Ankiel’s arm could play a major factor

The word was already out prior to last night.

But if by some chance you didn’t know, now you know: Rick Ankiel has a rocket for an arm.

Ankiel’s laser of a throw from center field to the plate last night was a cool moment. It allowed the 16,245 in attendance at Nationals Park a chance to stand and applaud the work of the Nats center fielder and perhaps give a high-five to their neighbor - if they were the high-five-a-random-stranger type.

But Ankiel’s throw was more than just a highlight. It was a statement received around the league.

Word spreads fast in the majors. Scouts take note of plays like the one Ankiel made last night, and players tuck nuggets of information into the back of their minds. Astros center fielder Jordan Schafer already knew Ankiel had a ridiculously strong arm, which is why he didn’t bother to test it last night when he could’ve tagged up from third and tried to score on a fly ball to center.

Instead, he stayed put, and couldn’t help but share a laugh with Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman after the play.

“Everyone knows that it’s kind of predetermined not to test Rick out,” Zimmerman said. “It’s nice to have him on our team.”

It’s especially nice considering the Nats aren’t likely to give up a ton of runs this season. With the starting rotation that the Nationals possess, teams will have to try and manufacture runs and sneak them across however possible. And if a runner is afraid to go from first-to-third, second-to-home or tag up on a fly ball because of the arm that’s in center, that could go a long way toward further minimizing the number of players crossing the plate off Nationals pitching this season.

“I think it’s huge,” Zimmerman said. “Especially in close games, when there’s guys on second, not necessarily does a base hit mean a run is going to score. When you have the pitching like we have, it’s hard to string together base hit after base hit. Any time you can have an outfield arm like that that practically shuts down the running game and makes the team get another hit off the pitching that we have, it’s not easy to do.”

It’s getting to the point that Nats players are saying - perhaps jokingly, perhaps not - that they hope the opposing team lifts a fly ball to center in the type of situations we saw last night. That way, Ankiel can unleash his arm, as he did against the Astros.

“I know the manager for them, they know he has a good arm,” catcher Wilson Ramos said. “For me, I say pop it up to Ankiel, because he’s got (a) cannon.”

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