Ankiel had been on the DL since May 4 after a headfirst crash into the wall while making a running catch that left him with a bruised right shoulder and overall body soreness.
He batted fifth and was 1 for 4 with a double and two strikeouts in a 3-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Sunday after convincing manager Tony La Russa he could play. He was in right field instead of center field to give him an easier return to the lineup, with rookie Colby Rasmus remaining in center. The team had been targeting Monday for Ankiel's return.
"I'm happy to be out there," Ankiel said. "I just wish we could have beat them."
Ankiel playing right field for now was fine. Right fielder Ryan Ludwick is due to come off the 15-day disabled list from a hamstring injury on Friday.
"I don't really care, I want to play," Ankiel said. "If that's what the head honcho says, then that's where I'll be. No big deal."
Infielder Tyler Greene was optioned to Triple-A Memphis. Tyler Greene, who was getting increased playing time at shortstop with Khalil Greene suffering from anxiety-related problems, batted .263 with two homers and four RBIs in 38 at-bats.
The Cardinals have been waiting for Ankiel, batting .247 with two homers and 11 RBIs, to tell them the soreness was gone. He's been working out with the team since Wednesday, the first day he was eligible to come off the DL.
"He came in early and got a really good workout and gave it thumbs-up," La Russa said. "It's always been about Rick feeling good about himself."
Before Saturday's game, the team thought Ludwick might beat Ankiel back. Ludwick has been on the DL with a right hamstring injury since May 13.
Greene's demotion reflects La Russa's decision to keep 13 pitchers and four bench players, even though starters had worked 36 2/3 innings the previous five games. The team also wants Greene, a first-round pick in the 2005 draft, to play regularly in the minors.
Outfielder Nick Stavinoha totaled four RBIs Friday and Saturday, perhaps giving him the edge over Greene, and had made seven straight starts in right field before Sunday.
"He's gotten some big hits, and also gives us that extra outfielder," La Russa said. "Without him, we'd be a little short."