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.

Bud Norris exits outing with right knee soreness

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Angels’ right-handed reliever Bud Norris made his 23rd appearance of the season on Friday, and after just three pitches, he was done for the night. He worked a 2-1 count to Marlins’ Dee Gordon in the eighth inning, then promptly exited the field after experiencing some tightness in his right knee. Neither Norris nor manager Mike Scioscia believe the injury is cause for major concern, and the 32-year-old right-hander admitted that it may have had something to do with his lack of stretching before he took the mound. For now, he’s day-to-day with right knee soreness, with the hope that the issue doesn’t escalate over the next few days.

While the Angels are lucky to have avoided serious injury, they’ll need Norris to pitch at 100% if they want to stay competitive within the AL West. They currently sit a full nine games behind the league-leading Astros, and haven’t been helping their cause after taking five losses in their last eight games. Friday’s 8-5 finale marked their third consecutive loss of the week.

 

When healthy, Norris has been one of the better arms in the Angels’ bullpen. Through 23 2/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.66 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 and an outstanding 11.8 SO/9 in 23 outings. The righty hasn’t allowed a single run in four straight appearances, recording three saves and helping the club clinch four wins in that span. This is his second setback of the year after sustaining a partial fingernail tear on his pitching hand during spring training.

Video: Max Scherzer sets record with 13-strikeout outing

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Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.

More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.

Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)

It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.