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Ankiel making progress for Cardinals

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2003

JUPITER -- Rick Ankiel had another successful throwing session.

Facing batters for the second time this spring, Ankiel threw 30 pitches Saturday as he tries to overcome wildness and injuries and make the Cardinals roster as a reliever.

"It was all right and I'm where I should be," he said. "It's too early to say much about how I will fit in the bullpen. We have to wait until the games start."

Ankiel, who missed all of last season with an elbow injury and struggled in the past with wildness, has been shifted to the bullpen in a move meant to ease the pressure on him.

Once one of the most promising young left-handers in baseball, Ankiel has not overcome an embarrassing bout of wildness in the 2000 playoffs. The 23-year-old Ankiel won 11 games as a rookie in 2000 but has struggled with his health and control since. He last pitched in the majors in May 2001.

With closer Jason Isringhausen being brought along slowly this spring after offseason shoulder surgery, Ankiel and other candidates will be given opportunities in March to see whether they could fill the role occasionally during the regular season.

Ace Matt Morris also faced batters for the second time this spring, throwing between 40 and 50 pitches.

"You would like to be able to pinpoint your pitches every time out," Morris said. "But you have to accept it when you can't this time of year. I'm where I need to be and continuing to make progress."

Manager Tony La Russa didn't focus too closely on the results of his pitchers.

"The main thing now for both of them is to build up their stamina more than anything else," he said.

Morris is set to start the exhibition season opener Thursday against the Mets and has already been chosen by La Russa to open the season March 31 in St. Louis against the Brewers.

Thomas: 'I was a guinea pig'

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Frank Thomas' bitterness has subsided a bit. Not to say the Big Hurt isn't still stinging after the White Sox invoked a diminished skills clause in his contract.

That sent the two-time MVP hunting for a job in the free-agent market, and after an unsuccessful foray, he returned to the only team he has ever played for, vowing to prove he can be the hitter he once was.

"I set myself up for disaster and I would never have thought it would come to it. The team had a way out of it and chose to do it," Thomas said after the team's first full-squad workout.

"Of course I was bitter for a little while, knowing what I've done for this organization. Unprecedented. They haven't had a player to perform like I have. I felt slighted a bit. But it was business, shrewd business.

"I think I was a guinea pig."

Because he didn't meet certain performance levels, the clause in his previous contract would have allowed the White Sox to pay him $250,000 annually up front and defer $10.125-million each year.

Instead, he re-signed in December, a one-year contract that also has three years of mutual options. He will make $5-million in 2003 and can void the deal after the season is over.

"That's a slap in the face. I earned the right to be at a certain level and I'm not there anymore," Thomas said.

ASTROS: Craig Biggio will return to a familiar spot in the lineup. A year after batting primarily in the No. 2 spot, the team's new centerfielder will reclaim the leadoff spot. Manager Jimy Williams isn't sure who will normally fill the second spot, but Jeff Bagwell will bat third, Lance Berkman in the cleanup role and Jeff Kent fifth.

ATHLETICS: Reigning American League MVP Miguel Tejada reported to spring training in Phoenix after being delayed for two days because he was caring for his ill son. Tejada missed only two full-squad workouts, and manager Ken Macha wasn't concerned that the star shortstop will be behind, because he had been playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic.

DODGERS: Rightfielder Shawn Green put together a powerful batting practice display in Vero Beach despite a sore left shoulder. Green said the shoulder feels better than last season and he dismissed it as a nagging problem. He had an offseason MRI that revealed only tendinitis.

METS: Left-hander Donovan Osborne signed a minor-league contract and was invited to spring training. Osborne made 11 relief appearances for the White Sox last season, going 0-1 with a 6.19 ERA. In his eight-year career with St. Louis and the White Sox, Osborne is 47-46 with a 3.96 ERA.

RANGERS: Closer Ugueth Urbina did not make it into camp in Surprise, Ariz., because of travel delays.

RED SOX: Robert Person agreed to a minor-league contract two years after winning 15 games for the Phillies. The right-hander thinks he'll be ready to pitch by opening day after coming back from arthroscopic operations on his shoulder and elbow.

REDS: The 42,256 seats for opening day against the Pirates on March 31 at Great American Ball Park sold out in an hour, team spokesman Rob Butcher said.

INDIANS: Catcher Josh Bard, who sprained his left foot when he stepped on a ball Tuesday, jogged and took batting practice.

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