- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 10, 2011

Maybe Rockies manager Jim Tracy shouldn’t have pulled his starting pitcher. Maybe closer Matt Reynolds shouldn’t have thrown a curveball.

Whatever the case, Washington Nationals outfielder Rick Ankiel made Colorado pay with his momentum-sealing solo shot over the right-field fence Sunday to help give his team something to feel good about heading into the All-Star break.

The pinch-hit homer also kept the good vibes flowing for Ankiel, who has been on fire since his July 1 return from a strained rib cage that kept him on the DL for 14 games. Before the Rockies series, Ankiel had a hit in each of his six games since being activated, notching a .571 average with one home run and one RBI in that span. He then went 0-for-4 in Friday’s 3-2 loss to the Rockies, but he followed that up with an RBI in the Nats’ 2-1 loss Saturday night.

With one out in the eighth inning Sunday, Ankiel struck again.

“I just went up there trying to get a pitch to drive, and I had a pretty good swing on a curveball,” Ankiel said. “I knew it had a chance, and I’m happy I got the result.”

Since signing with the Nats for a one-year, $1.5 million deal in December, Ankiel has experienced a roller coaster season. The left-handed pitcher-turned-outfielder finished his first 28 games with one homer and seven RBI before a wrist injury sidelined him for 19 games in May. He went 0 for 4 during a one-game rehab assignment in Double-A Harrisburg and then tallied two more RBI before being deactivated for 14 more games with the rib cage injury.

Although his .232 average and three home runs won’t blow anyone away, Ankiel’s offense as of late has been instrumental in buoying his ballclub’s confidence at this crucial juncture in the season.

“It’s great,” Ankiel said. “Since I’ve been back I’ve been swinging pretty good, so it’s a good way to end the first half, I guess you could say, and a good way to start the break. I think [the win] was huge for us going into the break and hopefully when we get back we keep the momentum going against the Braves.”

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