Rizzo on decision to designate Ankiel for assignment

Talk about rough timing for Rick Ankiel to find out that he’d been designated for assignment by the Nationals. Today is his birthday.

Ankiel turns 33 today, but he now finds himself in a state of flux after being let go in order for the Nationals to activate reliever Drew Storen from the disabled list.

General manager Mike Rizzo said the decision to let Ankiel go wasn’t an easy one, but that the veteran outfielder took the news like a pro.

“It was very difficult, just because of the guy he is and the professional he is,” Rizzo said. “But again, there are decisions you make when you’re in this position. And some of them are very difficult.

“You look at the construction of the club and the construction of the bench, (and) he was the logical candidate to go.”

Ankiel hit .228 with five homers and 15 RBIs this season. He was a well-liked veteran presence in the clubhouse and his defense was valuable in the late innings in center field, but he offered little as a pinch hitter over the last couple months, striking out in 22 of his last 44 at-bats over a 31-game span. He hadn’t gotten a plate appearance in the six games since the All-Star break and had just two at-bats since July 1.

It became clear recently that the Nats saw more value in Roger Bernadina, who has hit .342 since May 19 and has nine stolen bases in 10 attempts this season.

“Roger’s shown a propensity to come off the bench and contribute offensively both with the bat and on the bases,” Rizzo said. “(He) is a solid outfielder in three spots and can steal you a base when you need a base. He’s been a valuable asset off the bench for us, and he was a guy that we couldn’t lose at this particular time.”

The Nats now have 10 days release or trade Ankiel, or, if he clears waivers, they can assign him to the minor leagues.

The addition of Storen and subtraction of Ankiel leave the Nationals with a 13-man pitching staff. They’ll go with eight in their bullpen and four players on their bench, and that includes Ian Desmond, who has been sidelined with an oblique injury.

Rizzo said that the decision to go with eight relievers is based both on the fact that they’ll play four games over the next three days and that there are no clear relievers who are worthy of being sent out.

“The bullpen guys with options (Ryan Mattheus and Craig Stammen) are too valuable to send out and anybody you designate and send out is going to be taken by somebody else,” Rizzo said. “So guys like Mike Gonzalez and Henry Rodriguez, they’re too valuable for us in 2012, and Henry beyond 2012. We couldn’t take the chance of them getting claimed by another club, and we have a lineup now that’s fairly set. And we can go with a little shorter bench at this time.”

Rizzo said the plan for Storen is to mix and match him in a set-up role out of the gate.

“Oh, I definitely think we’re going to ease him into the back end of games,” Rizzo said. “He’s got experience in the back-end of games, but not a whole lot of experience. We feel good about where our bullpen’s at. We feel we’re very, very deep and very, very talented, and Drew just makes us that much stronger.”

In addition to activating Storen, the Nats also officially placed catcher Jhonatan Solano on the 15-day DL with a left oblique strain and recalled catcher Sandy Leon.

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