Sunday, April 27, 2008

Rick Ankiel Moved in Batting Order

Slumping Cardinals outfielder Rick Ankiel's troubles are serious enough that manager Tony LaRussa dropped him from the middle of the batting order to the No. 2 spot, where at least he stands a chance of moving a runner when he meekly grounds out to second base.

Even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut.

Ankiel -- last year's feel-good story as the former hard-throwing pitcher who made himself over as a position player -- has seen his batting average plummet 40 points in six weeks to .247, leaving LaRussa with a huge hole in the lineup where he desperately needed an RBI threat to prevent the opposition from pitching around superstar slugger Albert Pujols.

Though the season is still very young, critics had warned against what was perceived as a plausible depth problem for the Cardinals, seeing little help available should the team falter due to productivity lapses such as that being experienced by Ankiel, to say nothing of the probability of injuries.

Secondary outfielders Ryan Ludwick and Skip Schumaker are hitting well -- though not with power -- but are more ideally suited to be mixed and matched against various right-handed and left-handed pitchers.

The prime candidate to replace Ankiel -- should his outstanding productivity from last year turn out to be a short lived aberration -- is Colby Rasmus, but Rasmus is barely hitting his weight even after more than 100 plate appearances for at Triple A Memphis.

Expect the Cardinals to keep rapidly advancing Joe Mather, who has taken a shining to International League pitching. Mather is hitting .348 with a .739 slugging average in a brief trial after coming over to Memphis from Double A.