WASHINGTON -- When Rick Ankiel won the center field job for the Washington Nationals in spring training, they hoped he'd give them power and excellent defense. On Saturday afternoon, he gave them that -- plus a little bit more.
Ankiel drove in three runs with a homer and his first successful suicide-squeeze bunt, Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos each had three hits and the Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves 6-3.In a game that included two rain delays totaling 87 minutes, Ankiel's two-run homer highlighted a three-run third inning off Tommy Hanson (0-1). Ankiel put down his bunt in the seventh.Last year, Washington struggled with the enigmatic Nyjer Morgan in center. Last month, Ankiel outplayed him and the Nationals traded Morgan to Milwaukee.Ankiel launched his blast in a three-run third inning. Later, with the Nationals ahead 4-2 and Ryan Zimmerman on third base, Ankiel bunted and produced a key run.Since Ankiel returned to the major leagues as an outfielder in 2007 after wildness ended his time as a pitcher, he had just one sacrifice -- none in the past three seasons."The biggest thing is trying to conceal it and not let the other team know that you're going to do it, and here we are -- a 'W,' " Ankiel said.Ankiel's suicide squeeze was important, but his home run was more fun. He laughed when asked which gave him more satisfaction."Are you serious? Obviously, for personal fulfillment, the home run. There's nothing better for me as a baseball player," Ankiel said. "Anytime you get help the team win, that helps, too."Manager Jim Riggleman is hopeful that Ankiel, who had just six home runs and 24 RBIs in 74 games with Kansas City and Atlanta last year, will again be productive. In 2008, he had 25 homers and 71 RBIs with St. Louis."I don't want to put any numbers on it. When he was at his best, his healthiest, he was able to do some good things," Riggleman said. "He's had some physical things the last couple of years. He's healthy now. When you look up at the end of the year, whatever the numbers say, we think they'll be good."Werth, who signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with Washington in December, had doubles in the first and third innings and a single in the fourth. Ramos, set to split the catching duties with Ivan Rodriguez, hit three singles.John Lannan (1-0) got the win, Washington's first of the season.Lannan worked five innings, allowing a run and five hits, and five relievers finished up.Chad Gaudin allowed a leadoff home run to Dan Uggla in the sixth and Drew Storen gave up an eighth-inning home run to Alex Gonzalez. Sean Burnett pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings for his first save.Gonzalez had three hits for the Braves. Atlanta had 10 hits, but Washington's defense robbed them of several more."On offense, we could have easily had 15 or 16 hits today," Chipper Jones said. "It just seemed like they had somebody making a great play on the other end of the line drive or something. There's nothing you can do, just tip your cap."Hanson gave up three earned runs in 3 2/3 innings and came out after the second 55-minute rain delay in the fourth.The Nationals scored their first run in the second on Danny Espinosa's sacrifice fly. Atlanta tied it in third on Chipper Jones' RBI single.Werth doubled in the third, Zimmerman was hit by a pitch and Michael Morse had a sacrifice fly. Ankiel's first home run gave the Nationals a 4-1 lead.Gaudin began the sixth and Uggla hit his first pitch into the left-field stands.The Nationals scored their fifth run in the seventh on Zimmerman's triple and Ankiel's suicide squeeze sacrifice.Gonzalez's home run in the eighth made it 5-3.Zimmerman drove in Washington's final run with an eighth-inning single.
Riggleman said that for the time being he would divide the playing time of Ramos and Rodriguez. Later in the season, he expects Ramos to play more. Riggleman discussed the situation with Rodriguez, and he reacted favorably. "We've got to develop Ramos' game," Riggleman said. Rodriguez can catch several more years, Riggleman believes, and the 39-year-old is eager to work with Ramos. "He's the future of our ballclub," Rodriguez said. "There's still a lot of baseball in me." ... Braves RHP Jair Jurrjens, who's been slowed with a rib cage injury, will throw again on the side on Sunday, manager Fredi Gonzalez said. It's possible he could still make his scheduled start on Wednesday in Milwaukee, but could also make a minor league start before returning to the rotation. ... The game's start was delayed by 32 minutes.