CARLSBAD, Calif. • A comeback attempt with the Cardinals 14 years in the making will have to wait at least a few more months as lefty Rick Ankiel had elbow surgery that, for the moment, will delay his planned returned as a pitcher.
The Cardinals are waiting with an offer and an opportunity.
Ankiel has been rehabbing his arm at the Cardinals' facility in Jupiter, Fla., and Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak confirmed that Ankiel had a ligament repaired in his left elbow that will push back formal discussion of a contract for Ankiel.
The Cardinals remain interested in giving Ankiel a look throughout spring training as he gets healthy and stronger, and they are welcome to playing a role in his recovery and return to baseball. The team's plan, according to all parties involved, is to reach a minor-league agreement that gives him innings with a Cardinals affiliate and a longer look to determine his readiness for the majors as a lefty reliever. The Cardinals a he'll be game-ready by midseason.
"Expectations are that he still wants to give it a try," Mozeliak said.
Ankiel, 39, last pitched in the majors in 2004, and he retired as a pitcher after control issues besieged him again during 2005's spring training.
He reinvented himself that spring as a center fielder and by 2007 had returned to the majors with the Cardinals and within a year was a power-hitting center fielder. He spent the remainder of his career in the outfield until last playing with the Mets in 2013. This past fall, he appeared with on a team with former major-leaguers in a tournament and was coaxed into throwing an inning. He faced one batter. He struck that batter out.
An itch he had thought about scratching for awhile returned, and he spoke publicly about trying to make a comeback as a pitcher.
The Cardinals spoke with him about a deal and a role as a lefty reliever.
At the moment, he's an employee of the team's rights holder, Fox Sports Midwest.
Some time after initial talks this offseason, Ankiel notified the Cardinals that he felt some soreness in his left elbow, and he met with the Cardinals' team physician.
The lefthander had the same elbow surgery that Seth Maness and few other pitchers have had -- the one that is not a complete reconstruction of the joint, ala Tommy John surgery. The repair will allow Ankiel to return faster and not require a full year of rehab, as Tommy John does.
Ankiel lives in the Jupiter area and the Cardinals made their facility open to him because, as Mozeliak said, "he's part of the Cardinal family."