Ankiel returns to Cards' starting lineup

Ankiel returns to lineup

MIAMI -- Power-hitting Cardinals outfielder Rick Ankiel, who has been bothered by an abdominal strain since July 26, returned to the starting lineup Monday night for the first time in 15 games.

"We just kept testing it, and putting myself in situations," Ankiel said, before the Cardinals opened a four-game series against the Marlins. "It's as good as we can test it. It's been two-plus weeks and it's time to see what I can do in a game."

The Cardinals were willing to make two early concessions to get the lefty-swinging Ankiel back in the lineup, because he was hitting .282 this season with 22 home runs and 60 runs batted in.

They started him in left field, where he hadn't played since last season, because it might be a little easier on him physically. And Cardinals manager Tony La Russa would rather he gets some confidence that Ankiel will be fine physically before he takes any wild chances.

"I hope he gets through it all right," La Russa said. "It'd be nice if he doesn't have to dig out. I have no problem if he's a little bit careful."

La Russa added that the "medical analysis is that he's good to go."

Ankiel said he feels he's done everything he can do.

"I'll just see how I respond to game situations themselves," he said, "and hope for the best."

The Cardinals, 65-55 on the season, went 7-7 without Ankiel as a starter. He particularly has provided protection when the opposition has pitched right-handers.

Ankiel has been swinging the bat for more than a week now, but the Cardinals, ever careful, have been reluctant to left him run. Restricted to pinch-hitting for the past two weeks, Ankiel has gone 2-for-6 with one run batted in and two walks.

Ankiel hoped that playing left field wouldn't feel too strange.

"I'll just try to get a good jump on the ball," he said.

It was suggested to him that running the bases likely would be more of a test for his abdomen than playing left field, where you generally have to run in a straight line.

"You don't always have a straight line to the ball," he said, correcting his questioner. "Maybe you're supposed to, but it doesn't always work out that way."

Whatever the case, La Russa was just delighted to have one of his best hitters back in the lineup, with the regular season's home stretch coming up.

"Look at the season he's having," La Russa said. "He's been a good, solid hitter for us."

Charlie Nobles is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.