After leading his team to its third straight win with his first home run in nearly a month, Rick Ankiel hopes to keep contributing in his return from an abdominal strain as the St. Louis Cardinals continue a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday night at Great American Ball Park.
Ankiel didn’t start in any of the Cardinals’ 14 games from July 27-Aug. 11 because of the injury. He’s returned to start four of the last five games, and hit a two-run homer in the first inning of St. Louis’ 5-3 win over Cincinnati on Friday night. It was his first homer since he hit one in each of the Cardinals’ first two games after the All-Star break.
“I’m getting there,” Ankiel said. “I’m close. It’s just that the abdominals are tough. You’ve got to be careful with them.”
The converted pitcher is batting .341 with 17 homers and 49 RBIs in wins, and .207 with six homers and 14 RBIs in losses. Ankiel has also excelled against the Reds, going 11-for-29 (.379) with four homers and 11 RBIs in seven games this season.
The Cardinals (69-56) are still getting outstanding pitching despite coping with the loss of starter Chris Carpenter, who was placed on the disabled list with a strained pitching shoulder. The 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner joined former 20-game winner Mark Mulder (shoulder) and Adam Wainwright (finger) on the DL.
St. Louis, however, has won four of five with a 2.32 ERA from its rotation in that span to remain close to Milwaukee in the race for the NL wild card.
Joel Pineiro (5-5, 4.82 ERA) will get the ball for the Cardinals hoping to win his third straight start. Following a 9-6 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Aug. 6, the right-hander held Florida to two runs—one earned—in seven innings of a 4-2 win Monday.
Pineiro is 2-0 with a 1.47 ERA in three career starts against the Reds, including 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in two outings against them this season.
The last-place Reds (54-69), losers of 16 of 20, have had their own injury problems at the front of the rotation, but they hope to have those solved when ace Aaron Harang (3-12, 5.17) takes the mound Saturday.
The right-hander missed more than a month with a strained right forearm, and didn’t fare well in his return Sunday. In his first start since July 8, Harang gave up a career-high eight earned runs and nine hits in four innings of a 13-4 loss to Houston.
“Physically, I felt good,” said Harang, a 16-game winner in each of the last two seasons who’s one loss shy of his career high set in 2005. “Everything I threw was right over the middle of the plate. … That’s definitely not the way I wanted to come back.”
Harang is 5-7 with a 4.47 ERA in 15 career starts against the Cardinals, and St. Louis first baseman Albert Pujols is 13-for-37 (.351) with a home run and four doubles lifetime against him.