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December 06, 2001

Minors could help Ankiel
By Rob Dibble

As a former pitcher, I know the last thing a pitcher wants to worry about is whether he has command of the strike zone. It's hard enough to go out there and get extremely talented major-league players out every time you take the hill -- that just adds to the pressure.

Rick Ankiel
Rick Ankiel unleashed five pitches to the backstop in the first inning of an October playoff game vs. the Braves.
Following a solid performance on Sunday, Rick Ankiel was swarmed with high-fives and hugs from his teammates. Obviously, the Cardinals would love for Rick's control problem to go away, but what I saw was more relief than anything else.

A major-league pitcher has to be a confident, finely tuned machine. It shouldn't be a process of hoping you throw strikes and hoping you have a good outing every time you take the mound. A pitcher's attitude should be: When I take the mound, I know I'm going to be successful and I know I possess the talent to dominate (like a Randy Johnson or Pedro Martinez).

Trying to learn at the major-league level is almost an impossible task to ask of a 21-year-old, because you're constantly under a microscope and every outing is a do-or-die situation. It's not fair to Rick to be under that kind of stress every time he walks on the field.

He's obviously got major-league talent, but there is a part of me that says he's not ready to be playing in the major-leagues because he's too inconsistent. Two weeks to a month in the minors would not hurt him. In the minors, you're allowed to fail. Five to 10 starts in the minors may even help him stay in the big leagues for another 10 years.

I think some of the old-school baseball guys don't understand that the game has changed. Almost every outing for any pitcher is broadcast worldwide. When the media has that kind of access, it's very easy to scrutinize every outing. Now, as a member of that media, it's my job to assess his performance, and I will -- just like any other pitcher.

There is no place to hide for Rick. Part of being a major-league player is learning to live in the glare of the spotlight.

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Tony La Russa says Rick Ankiel is still learning how to control his pitches.
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