There's Something to be Said for Rehab Assignments

Ben WeixlmannSenior Writer IJune 4, 2009

29 Feb 2000: Pitcher Rick Ankiel #66 of the St. Louis Cardinals poses for a studio portrait during Spring Training Photo Day in Jupiter, Florida. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Stockman  /Allsport

Although they are becoming less and less popular among Major League teams, rehabilitation assignments have shown capability to work. So why would teams rush players back? Probably because they want to test them out against top-flight competition, in the chance that they can come back and contribute immediately.

Like most things in life, though, risks have their unfortunate sides as well.

The St. Louis Cardinals’ management has been a front-row seat for two rehab-skips gone wrong. Outfielders Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel both came back up into the big leagues without going to the minors first, and the rust is more than evident.

Ankiel is a horrific 2-for-18 since his return from the DL, and Ludwick is statistically worse, at 1-for-15.

Maybe there’s something to be said about rehab assignments, after all. Perhaps it’s because of the abundance of rookies on the Cardinals roster. They’ve inserted 11 of them into the local nine, which tops the majors by a wide margin. 

I’m pretty torn on this subject, though. I really think it was necessary to have Ludwick back in the lineup to give Albert Pujols protection.

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With Nick Stavinoha, the only other Cardinals position player hitting well during Ludwick’s absence, the Cardinals averaged around three runs per game, but were saved by some of the best pitching in manager Tony La Russa’s tenure as the head man for the Redbirds.

Ankiel could have used a rehab stint, though. He got a double last night, but he still looks miffed at times at the plate, and has struck out eight times in six games since returning. 

I really think he is a huge piece to the puzzle as far as contending for the NL Central crown is concerned. He might not provide as much offense as Ludwick, but having another bat that can do damage makes this lineup very scary.

Pujols is the equivalent of two All-Star caliber players when you look at his ability, and with Ludwick and Ankiel swinging the bat well, this lineup is downright dangerous.

Look no further than this season for some evidence that rehab stints, indeed, do work.

Shortstop Brendan Ryan made his way back down to Triple-A Memphis earlier this season after he went out with a hamstring injury. He didn’t get a hit in eight plate appearances in Memphis, but when he came back to St. Louis, he was ready to improve not only in the field, but at the dish, as well.

In fact, he is hitting .283 in his last 28 days which is up from his .250 average before the injury took place.

Even if the player doesn’t have a productive rehab stint, as evidenced with Ryan, chances are he will still be less rusty when he returns to the lineup up in the bigs.

I understand where La Russa and manager John Mozeliak were coming from when they made the decision to allow Ankiel to resume play. Just about any manager/general manager combination would be feeling the pressure to insert a big bat back into the lineup with the historic offensive struggles that the Cardinals witnessed in May.

Nonetheless, Memphis needs to be the route for these big-leaguers if they are to have a first few weeks of respectable baseball when it’s time to make a return trip to Busch Stadium.

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