Rick Ankiel undergoes elbow surgery in lead-up to expected comeback

MLB columnist
Yahoo Sports
Rick Ankiel is plotting a comeback as a pitcher, not a hitter, likely with the St. Louis <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/teams/stl" data-ylk="slk:Cardinals">Cardinals</a>. (Getty)
Rick Ankiel is plotting a comeback as a pitcher, not a hitter, likely with the St. Louis Cardinals. (Getty)

CARLSBAD, Calif. — Rick Ankiel remains confident in his comeback plans in spite of recent surgery to his left (pitching) elbow, a procedure he said will delay his intention to pitch again in the major leagues by a few months.

Ankiel, 39, underwent ligament reattachment surgery (called “primary repair”) last month after experiencing pain while preparing for his return, likely with the St. Louis Cardinals, five years after his retirement and 14 since throwing his last big-league pitch. He had elbow ligament reconstruction surgery – known as Tommy John surgery – in 2003. Recovery from the recent procedure is shorter than the 12 to 18 months required for Tommy John surgery, as it mends the existing ligament at the bone, rather than requiring a full replacement.

Though not yet under contract with the Cardinals, Ankiel has been rehabilitating his elbow at the Cardinals’ facility in Jupiter, Florida.

Nearly 14 years after a years-long battle with an anxiety disorder known as the “yips,” which preceded a seven-year career as an outfielder – when all told, is one of the more remarkable careers in baseball history – Ankiel believes he can reclaim the skills and precision that once made him an emerging ace. In 2000, as a rookie, he was 11-7 with a 3.50 ERA and 194 strikeouts in 175 innings. At the end of that season, he threw nine wild pitches and walked 11 batters over four postseason innings, beginning a trying 4½ years that concluded with his successful transition to the outfield. He retired in 2013 a career .240 hitter with 76 home runs.

Ankiel pitched briefly this summer in a tournament in Louisville, Kentucky, and came away confident in a comeback as a relief pitcher.

Afterward, he told Yahoo Sports, “I have nothing to lose. I’m not afraid. I might as well try.”

Depending on his recovery, Ankiel expects to be throwing again by early summer. Ankiel, who was drafted by the Cardinals in 1997 and spent 13 years with the organization, is not yet under contract with the team, though that seems the most likely outcome.

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