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Ankiel will take it easy this spring

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  • Ankiel will take it easy this spring


    Ankiel will take it easy this spring
    By Joe Strauss
    Of the Post-Dispatch

    JUPITER, Fla. - Spring training has fed Rick Ankiel a heavy dose of irony. The Cardinals' prize lefthander no longer has to deal with what pitching coach Dave Duncan called a "freak show" of media scrutiny. However, Ankiel had to undergo surgery to find peace.

    "It's been great. I haven't had to deal with all you guys," Ankiel said half-jokingly after Sunday's workout at Roger Dean Stadium. "I don't miss all the negative stuff."

    Ankiel is four years removed from his 11-win rookie season and is approaching the three-year anniversary of his last appearance in St. Louis. He has been dealing with trouble with control and with elbow problems that cost him the entire 2002 season and caused him to have elbow ligament transplant surgery last July.

    Rather than participate in full-squad workouts this spring, Ankiel throws to trainers. His arm action is decidedly fluid and his velocity surprising given the stage of his rehab.

    "We might have to pull him back in a little," said Duncan. "He doesn't need to get ahead of himself."

    It is common for pitchers who have Tommy John surgery to feel as if they have been blessed with a new arm. Ankiel admitted the sensation fuels a sense of optimism. "I feel great," he said. "It's all been very positive (since surgery). It's hard not to want to rush it."

    The Cardinals intend to stick with a program for Ankiel that calls for a return to the mound sometime in May and a possible rehab assignment in July.

    In the meantime, Ankiel has turned in the No. 66 he wore in the past for No. 49, which Steve Kline wore until this spring, when he switched to No. 34. "I got tired of playing offensive line," quipped Ankiel. "I'm looking to move into the backfield. Maybe next year I'll play quarterback" and wear his preferred No. 13.

    In the past year, Ankiel has developed physically. He is heavier than in 2000 when he was named National League rookie pitcher of the year by The Sporting News.

    "I think I needed to fill out some," he said. "I think I'm stronger now. I was probably too small before. I'm at a good weight now. I really feel good."

    Simontacchi gets
    blisters on his hands

    Righthander Jason Simontacchi has overcome shoulder stiffness in camp only to experience blistering on the back of both hands.

    The condition is believed to be related to anti-inflammatory medication Simontacchi took because of his shoulder. Similar reactions occurred on his arms and chest the past two seasons but a connection to anti-inflammatory medication wasn't made until this time.

    "We're still not really sure, but I'm not taking (anti-inflammatories) right now," said Simontacchi, extending hands that are still blistered but far less than the day before. "It itches pretty bad, especially when I wear my glove."

    Simontacchi has visited three dermatologists and is using an ointment. He has not missed any activities because of the problem. He is tentatively scheduled to make his first Grapefruit League appearance March 7.

    Isringhausen works
    on a fourth pitch

    Closer Jason Isringhausen came to camp intent on polishing a changeup. On Sunday, he threw it during an impressive session that featured a sharp-breaking curve and a cut fastball that consistently handcuffed lefthanded hitters.

    The changeup is a potential fourth pitch. Isringhausen said, "It's just something that I decided to try. I'm not sure when I'd use it in a game. Unless you have a Bugs Bunny changeup like (Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Eric) Gagne, you're not going to be throwing that pitch very often.

    "I'm not going to let myself get beat with my fourth pitch. But there might be a time you mix it in with two strikes when a hitter is up there with two strikes fouling off pitch after pitch. It's something else to look at."