HAGERSTOWN — Officially, Rick Ankiel and Michael Morse started the 2012 season on the Washington Nationals’ disabled list.
Ankiel looks at it a little differently. He’s getting a little more spring training than the rest of the guys.
Ankiel and Morse continued their rehab/training routine on Monday when both Nationals outfielders were in the starting lineup for the Hagerstown Suns and took the field against Lexington at Municipal Stadium.
Ankiel went 2-for-3 with a two-run home run, two walks and three RBIs on Monday. Morse went 2-for-4 and scored a run before being lifted for a pinch runner.
Playing with the low Single-A club in the South Atlantic League might seem like it’s a long way from playing with the Nationals, but that’s not Ankiel’s approach. In reality, it isn’t that far away.
“I feel like I’m right there and I’m progressing nicely,” said Ankiel after taking batting practice with the Suns on Monday. “More than anything, this is our spring training. We are here to get at-bats and get ready to play.”
Ankiel landed on the disabled list with a strained quadricep, an annoying injury that limits mobility. Getting that ease of movement back is the key to being back in Washington.
“It affects me when I’m running,” he said. “I need to be able to get to full length. It is progressing. It’s all part of getting back.”
One sign of an imminent return is the fact that both Morse and Ankiel were here playing for the Suns.
The Nationals have been using minor league home games to get rehabbing players live action to get ready for when they are healthy. Last season, the Suns hosted a number of injured Nats, including Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman and Chien-Ming Wang.
Ankiel played center field and batted third for the Suns, while Morse was slotted fourth in the order and played left field.
Ankiel said he is scheduled to play with the Suns for the three-game Lexington series and is projected to be activated by the Nationals on Saturday.
Morse — who is rehabilitating a back strain — is on target to be back with the Nationals on Wednesday. He was available for interviews after the game, but it was past press time.
Ankiel and Morse opened the season and their rehabilitation tour playing for Double-A Harrisburg over the weekend. Ankiel went 3-for-9 with two home runs and three RBIs in four games with the Senators, playing two of them in center field.
Morse was 3-for-8 with a homer, two doubles and four RBIs in three games in Harrisburg.
“Playing here helps us see live stuff and game situations so we can react and be ready to play when we get back,” Ankiel said.
The ability to step into the lineup is of the utmost importance for Ankiel, Morse and the Nationals. When the two outfielders return, they will add power to the roster and probably change the makeup of the lineup. The pair combined for 40 home runs and 128 RBIs in 2011.
“It’s not my decision (about the role on the Nationals),” Ankiel said. “My job is to get healthy and get ready to play. Every team, no matter where you play, enters the season with championship aspirations. We have a lot of good players on the team, but we know we will need to use every guy to get there.
“We are down here to get ready. Once we get there, there will be a different focus and excitement.”