JUPITER, Fla. -- A return to where it all began is always fun for Rick Ankiel.
The outfielder, currently fighting for a job with the Nationals, was once a major pitching prospect for the Cardinals.
"It's fun to come back and compete against these guys," Ankiel said before Thursday's game. "I've got some long-lasting friends over there. I just want to go out and compete against them. I also have a bunch of friends and family coming out to see me play, too."
One of those friends is Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. The former catcher was once Ankiel's batterymate in St. Louis. With Matheny managing the opposition, Ankiel realizes just how long it has been since his career kicked off as a 19-year-old rookie in 1999.
"It makes you feel like you're getting older," Ankiel said. "I'm really excited for him. He's a great guy, and I think he's going to do a great job, too. I'm excited to see how that goes for him, but at the same time, I'm ready to kick their butt."
The Nationals were unable to follow through with Ankiel's goal on Thursday, losing 9-0. But the 32-year-old did have some personal success, going 1-for-2 with a walk.
One year after struggling offensively, Ankiel is having success at the plate this spring. He is just 4-for-11, but manager Davey Johnson is pleased with the outfielder's new approach.
"He has a more relaxed approach this year," Johnson said. "He's using the whole field. Not so much dead pull now. He's shooting for the whole field more. He looks much better with his approach and the way he's been hitting the ball in BP and in games."
The idea for a new approach came from Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein, and Ankiel is happy with the results he has seen so far.
"The game of baseball is a game of constant adjustments," Ankiel said. "Each year, you make the adjustments that you think you need to make and go from there. I feel good with what I'm doing and I'm happy about where things are going."