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10 years ago today: Rick Ankiel gets sent down

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Having walked five and thrown two wild pitches the night before, Rick Ankiel was sent down to Triple-A Memphis on this day 10 years ago.  It’d be 3 1/2 years before he returned to the majors and six before he was back for good.

After going 11-7 with a 3.50 ERA as a rookie, Ankiel experienced a meltdown in the 2000 postseason.  Named the Cardinals’ Game 1 starter in the NLDS, he threw five wild pitches and walked six on his way to giving up four runs in 2 2/3 innings.  He worked twice more in the NLCS, throwing four wild pitches and walking five in 1 1/3 innings.

The hope was that Ankiel would find his form over the winter, but while he was no longer denting the backstop in spring training, control remained a big problem.  He ended up going 1-2 with a 7.13 ERA in his six starts for the Cardinals.  He struck out 27 in 24 innings, but he also walked 25.

Ankiel then completely lost it at Memphis, walking 17 and throwing 12 wild pitches in 4 1/3 innings.  The Cardinals backed off him for a bit before sending him all of the way down to Rookie ball to get him out of the spotlight.  The treatment worked, as he came back to post a ridiculous 158/18 K/BB in 87 2/3 innings for Johnson City of the Appalachian League.

At that point, Ankiel’s stuff was still some of the best in baseball, and the hope was that he’d come back and emerge as one of the NL’s elite hurlers.  Ankiel, though, went on to miss 2002 with an elbow injury.  Tommy John surgery followed in 2003.  He returned to the majors as a reliever in Sept. 2004 and showed promise.  While he allowed six runs in 10 innings, he posted a 9/1 K/BB ratio in the process. 

Ankiel went on to pitch successfully in Puerto Rico over the winter, but he tweaked his elbow towards the end of the stint and his command issues came back after he rejoined the Cardinals.  On Feb. 28, he threw just three strikes in a 28-pitch batting practice session.  Nine days later, he announced that he’d make the full-time switch to the outfield.

Of course, the story has a semi-happy ending from there.  Ankiel returned to the majors in 2007 and hit 36 homers for the Cardinals in 585 at-bats through the end of 2008.  Unfortunately, he’s dealt with injuries and hasn’t been nearly as productive since. The Nationals opened this season with him as their primary center fielder, but he’s currently on the DL with a sprained right wrist.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Monday’s action

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 21: Starter Corey Kluber #28 of the Cleveland Indians pitches during the first inning against the Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field on September 21, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Indians, leading by one game over the Tigers, can clinch the AL Central on Monday night and they’ll have their best starter going for them in Corey Kluber. Kluber will match up against the Tigers’ Buck Farmer in a 7:10 PM EST start at Comerica Park.

Kluber won the American League Cy Young Award in 2014, going 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA, but regressed last season, finishing with a league-worst total of 16 losses and a 3.49 ERA. Thankfully for the Indians, he bounced back in 2016. He’ll enter tonight’s start with an 18-9 record, a 3.11 ERA, and a 224/56 K/BB ratio in 211 innings. Among qualified starters in the AL, Kluber is fourth-best in ERA behind Michael Fulmer, Masahiro Tanaka, and Rick Porcello.

Kluber’s best case for the Cy Young is a Sabermetric one. Though his record is good, Porcello shares his 3.11 ERA but with a 22-4 record. Kluber, however, has the best Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) in the league at 3.11. FIP, for the uninitiated, is a “retrodictor.” In other words, it attempts to figure out what a pitcher’s ERA should have been if defense weren’t a factor. Kluber shines with a 26.6 percent strikeout rate that ranks as the fourth best in the league and a 6.7 percent walk rate that is the 17th-lowest. xFIP is like FIP but it assumes a home run rate close to the league average (about 10 percent as a percentage of fly balls). Kluber falls back to fifth in the league at 3.46 here, but the only players above him have much worse real results. So, even xFIP bolsters Kluber’s case for the Cy Young Award.

If Kluber is able to help the Indians beat the Tigers on Monday night, the club will have won a division title for the first time since 2007. That was when the club was led by CC Sabathia, then all of 26 years old. It’s been a long time coming for the Indians.

The rest of Monday’s action…

Arizona Diamondbacks (Archie Bradley) @ Washington Nationals (Tanner Roark), 7:05 PM EDT

Chicago Cubs (Kyle Hendricks) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (Chad Kuhl), 7:05 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Luis Severino) @ Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ), 7:07 PM EDT

New York Mets (Bartolo Colon) @ Miami Marlins (Adam Conley), 7:10 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Matt Garza) @ Texas Rangers (Martin Perez), 8:05 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (Hisashi Iwakuma) @ Houston Astros (Collin McHugh), 8:10 PM EDT

Tampa Bay Rays (Drew Smyly) @ Chicago White Sox (James Shields), 8:10 PM EDT

Cincinnati Reds (Tim Adleman) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Jaime Garcia), 8:15 PM EDT

Oakland Athletics (Sean Manaea) @ Los Angeles Angels (Jered Weaver), 10:05 PM EDT

Officials: Speed, impact likely killed Jose Fernandez

MIAMI, FL - AUGUST 03: Jose Fernandez #16 of the Miami Marlins looks on during a game against the New York Mets at Marlins Park on August 3, 2015 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Some details have been released in connection with the investigation into the boat crash which killed Jose Fernandez.

Lorenzo Veloz, an official with the Florida Wildlife Commission, told USA Today that the boat carrying Jose Fernandez and two others was traveling at a high rate of speed when it struck rocks as it approached a channel near the port of Miami. While autopsy results have not yet been released, it is likely that trauma from the crash, and not drowning, is what killed the boat’s passengers. Veloz said it did not appear that Fernandez was driving and that, while it was a boat he used often, it did not belong to him. Rather, it belonged to one of the other men killed in the crash.

Veloz said neither drugs nor alcohol are believed to have been a factor in the crash. Toxicology results will take some time, however.

It is estimated that the boat was traveling at full speed, between 55 and 65 miles per hour, when it hit rocks and capsized.