Ankiel aims to return to Cardinals as outfielder

JUPITER, Fla. -- Rick Ankiel faces plenty of uncertainty regarding his future in Major League Baseball.

But one thing remains absolute for the St. Louis Cardinals outfielder -- he will not return to pitching.

"Nope, not a chance," Ankiel said this week at Roger Dean Stadium, where he has been rehabbing his injured knee in preparation for spring training.

Ankiel is still recovering from surgery to clean up the strained patellar tendon in his left knee. After recently experiencing tendinitis in the knee, Ankiel and Cardinals physicians have opted against his playing winter ball this offseason.

"Just a little bit of tendinitis, which I guess is expected," said Ankiel, who had the surgery May 26. "I wanted to play winter ball, but with the tendinitis, it just wasn't a good idea."

Ankiel is still expected to be healed in January, a month before spring training begins. At this point, there are no restrictions on Ankiel's training regimen and he is able to sprint, Cardinals extended spring training trainer Adam Olsen said.

"He's doing well," Olsen said. "Basically, he's right on track. He's just past the five-month mark now, so he's been doing all the baseball activities.

"[Winter ball] was something that was played with. That was going to be really advanced. If he made it there that would mean he had the most phenomenal recovery possible," Olsen said.

Ankiel, 27, said he still plans to play outfielder, a position he didn't play professionally until spring 2005. He will again attempt to make the Cardinals team this spring. If the Cardinals don't open the season with Ankiel on their 25-man roster or the disabled list, he must clear waivers before St. Louis can send him to the minors.

The former second-round draft pick was in the same situation last season but missed the year because of the knee injury, which gave the Cardinals the ability to protect him by putting him on the DL. St. Louis went on to win the World Series, which was a bittersweet moment for Ankiel.

"I think so, just knowing that I could have been there," Ankiel said. "That's pretty much what's going through your mind the whole time you're watching. Other than that, you're excited for them. I know a lot of those guys. I played with a lot of them."

When healthy, Ankiel has showed an ability to hit. In the 2005 season, during which he also missed time because of injuries, he hit 21 home runs for Cardinals minor-league teams. After spending a lot of time working out at Roger Dean Stadium, Ankiel is ready to prove himself again.

"I've been here the whole time," Ankiel said. "But you've got to just look at it as a normal offseason, so training-wise you look at it in that regard and just train as much as I can and be ready for spring."