Webb, struggling through his worst stretch of the season, looks to shut down Ankiel and the St. Louis Cardinals when he takes the mound for the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday night in the opener of a three-game set.
Arizona (78-63) could use a strong effort from Webb (14-10, 2.91 ERA) as it tries to hang onto a one-game lead over San Diego in the NL West. Webb, though, has lost both starts since his 42-inning shutout string ended Aug. 22, allowing 10 earned runs in 12 1-3 innings.
In his last outing, Webb gave up four runs and five hits in seven innings of a 4-3 loss to Colorado on Sunday.
The right-hander also struggled against the Cardinals on July 2, giving up five runs and seven hits in six innings as the Diamondbacks lost 11-3. He is 1-4 with a 4.67 ERA in six career starts against them.
But Webb, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, has the potential to dominate any game, using one of the league’s best sinkers to keep the ball on the ground. He has allowed 0.65 home runs per nine innings since 2003, tops in the majors among pitchers that have thrown at least 600 innings in that span.
Ankiel was a much different pitcher, a hard thrower who allowed 1.1 homers per nine innings. His pitching career was cut short due to wildness, but his comeback effort as a power-hitting outfielder has been extraordinary.
Ankiel homered twice and had a career-high seven RBIs to lead the Cardinals (69-68) over Pittsburgh 16-4 on Thursday in a game shortened to eight innings because of rain.
He is batting .358 with nine homers and 29 RBIs in 23 games since being brought up from Triple-A Memphis on Aug. 9. This is Ankiel’s first stint in the majors since he pitched for St. Louis in 2004.
“Marvel is a good word,” St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said of Ankiel. “It’s kind of amazing, isn’t it? Clutch, too.”
The Cardinals are 17-9 since Ankiel’s callup, and are one game behind Chicago and Milwaukee for first place in the NL Central after struggling for most of the season.
Adam Wainwright (13-9, 3.78) has also been a surprisingly effective performer for the Cardinals this season, and he will get the ball in the opener. The right-hander, in his first season as a starter, is 4-1 with a 2.08 ERA in his last seven outings.
He allowed two runs - one earned and six hits in 5 2-3 innings to beat Cincinnati 11-3 on Saturday night.
Wainwright earned a win against Arizona on July 5, yielding two runs and five hits in seven innings as St. Louis won 3-2. He has made three other appearances against the Diamondbacks - all in relief - and is 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA lifetime against them.
Wainwright will be facing an Arizona lineup that may be without Orlando Hudson, who has a sprained left thumb and was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Thursday. Hudson went 1-for-4 with a triple in the Diamondbacks’ 9-6 victory over San Diego on Wednesday night, but he left the game after seven innings.
Arizona manager Bob Melvin said the club doesn’t know when the All-Star second baseman may return.
“This obviously puts a little damper here,” Melvin said. “This is one of our leaders right here, so we’ve got to try to find a way to get him healthy.”
Hudson is batting .319 (38-for-119) with six doubles, four triples and a homer since Aug. 3.
St. Louis won three of four games against Arizona at Busch Stadium from July 2-5. The Cardinals have lost nine of their last 14 road games as they start a seven-game trip.