Ankiel, Cardinals' probable starter in center field, homers twice - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Ankiel, Cardinals' probable starter in center field, homers twice

VERO BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Rick Ankiel and Esteban Loaiza are doing the best they can to leave a lasting impression on their managers.

Ankiel, the likely opening day center fielder for St. Louis, hit a pair of home runs while the Dodgers' Loaiza worked five strong innings Friday in the Cardinals' 6-4 win.

The 36-year-old Loaiza made a mistake in the first inning, grooving a fastball that Ankiel lofted to dead center. Jason Repko leaped high against the fence and had the ball in his glove momentarily, but it fell over for a solo homer and a 1-0 lead.

"It was a sinker away. It's a left-hander's pitch to hit, especially if he's up there hacking," Loaiza said.

Ankiel added another homer in the eighth inning, a three-run shot on an 0-2 pitch from Yhency Brazoban that hit off the net behind the right-field fence.

The homers were his second and third of the Grapefruit League. Ankiel, who grew up in Fort Pierce, 15 minutes south of Dodgertown, increased his spring average to .359.

"I just like the way he takes at-bats in those situations," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "He's trying to make something happen, and he's got a lot of talent to make it happen."

The 28-year-old hasn't officially been named the starting center fielder, but all signs point to him being penciled in at the position on March 31 when St. Louis opens at home against Colorado.

Ankiel's transition to center field has been a smooth one.

"He can play there, he can play right. He's a gifted athlete," La Russa added.

Loaiza's manager, Joe Torre, is over half a world away, leading part of the team in an exhibition series against San Diego in Beijing.

But Loaiza isn't concerned, especially after allowing just three hits and the lone run in five solid innings of work.

"I just want to go out and put up zeros. I never ask. I don't like to ask. It's their decision," said Loaiza, who added that he fell short of his expected pitch-count.

The Dodgers sent eight men to the plate in the fourth inning to take a 3-1 lead.

Catcher Russell Martin sent an 0-1 pitch from starter Clay Mortensen over the left-field fence for his first homer of the season, a two-run shot. Repko followed three batters later with a single that brought in Blake DeWitt.

Notes: The Cardinals signed RHP Kyle Lohse to a one-year contract. His deal could reach $5 million in incentives. Lohse pitched for Philadelphia and Cincinnati last season, going a combined 9-12 with a 4.62 ERA. He will throw a simulated game on Monday and should get worked into games after that. ... Los Angeles closer Takashi Saito, who has been nursing a sore right calf, is expected to make his spring debut Saturday in Viera against Washington. ... INF Tony Abreu, rehabbing from a sports hernia operation, is also slated to travel with the team and should see his first action. ... 3B Andy LaRoche (torn ligament in right thumb) should get his soft cast off in just over two weeks and begin rehabbing, likely in extended spring training in Vero Beach.


(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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