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Ankiel, Farnsworth arrive to playoff chase

Ankiel, Farnsworth arrive to playoff chase

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CINCINNATI -- Veteran outfielder Rick Ankiel and right-handed reliever Kyle Farnsworth flew from Kansas City to Cincinnati early Sunday morning and gladly welcomed the opportunity to spend the next two months playing meaningful games with the Braves.

"It's good to come in to a team that's contending," Ankiel said. "I just want to come in, contribute and try to help them do what they're doing."

When Ankiel and Farnsworth arrived at Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium on Saturday, they didn't have any sense that they were going to be playing for manager Bobby Cox less than 24 hours later. Once Saturday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline arrived, Farnsworth went on the field and began his normal running routine.

After running for just a couple of minutes, Farnsworth was summoned back to the clubhouse, where he learned that the Royals had just traded him and Ankiel to the Braves.

"At least I got traded to Atlanta," said Farnsworth, a native of suburban Atlanta, who was acquired from the Tigers in time to spend the final two months of the 2005 season as the Braves' closer.

While receiving a little more than $2 million from the Royals to cover most of the salaries still owed to Farnsworth and Ankiel, the Braves managed to upgrade their bullpen and outfield mix at a minimal cost.

Atlanta reluctantly included talented young left-handed reliever Tim Collins in the five-player trade. But the other two players included in the deal, Gregor Blanco and Jesse Chavez, didn't seem to be a part of the club's future plans.

Ankiel didn't have a lot of time to acquaint himself with his new environment before assuming his new role as the Braves' primary center fielder. Cox had the 31-year-old outfielder batting seventh during Sunday afternoon's series finale against the Reds at Great American Ball Park.

"He can really go get them in center field," Cox said. "He's got a good arm and big-time power."

Ankiel has come a long way since serving as the Cardinals' starting pitcher in Game 1 of the 2000 National League Division Series against the Braves. He ended his days as a pitcher after the '04 season and became a regular member of St. Louis' outfield in '08, when he hit .264 with 25 homers and an .843 OPS.

An early-season concussion led Ankiel to struggle throughout most of the 2009 season and a strained right quadriceps muscle has limited him to just 27 games this year. But while hitting .367 in the eight games he had played since returning to action on July 22, he gave the Braves reason to believe he could help them at least against right-handed pitchers down the stretch.

With a .239 career batting average against left-handed pitchers, Ankiel will likely share some playing time in center with the switch-hitting Melky Cabrera, who has hit a mediocre .257 against left-handed pitchers in his career.

Ankiel is considered to be a much better defender than Cabrera, whose limited range has proven to be more obvious since he began playing the center-field position more frequently since Nate McLouth suffered a concussion on June 9.

"I just want to come in here, do the best that I can and help out any way possible," Ankiel said.

While he's no longer the closer that he was when he previously pitched in Atlanta, the Braves believe Farnsworth will prove dependable enough to lessen the amount of work given to the club's other middle relievers -- Peter Moylan, Jonny Venters and 40-year-old Takashi Saito, who is not supposed to pitch on consecutive days.

Since getting a chance to build his stamina and develop a better two-seam fastball while serving as a starting pitcher in Spring Training this year, Farnsworth has reintroduced himself to the success he had in 2005, when he combined to post a 2.19 ERA in 72 appearances with the Tigers and Braves.

"I think I'm more of a pitcher now than a thrower," said Farnsworth, who posted a 2.42 ERA in 37 appearances with the Royals.

Farnsworth allowed six earned runs in 27 1/3 innings and successfully converted each of the 10 save opportunities he had with the Braves in 2005. Unfortunately, his short tenure with his hometown club concluded with him blowing a five-run eighth-inning lead in the decisive fourth game of the NLDS against the Astros.

Still, despite the fact that he surrendered a Lance Berkman grand slam and Brad Ausmus' two-out, ninth-inning solo homer in that season-ending 18-inning loss to the Astros, Farnsworth still enjoyed the opportunity that he's once again been given this year.

"It's always good to come back home," Farnsworth said.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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