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Porter believes Ankiel can have big role for Astros

HOUSTON -- Astros manager Bo Porter spoke glowingly Monday about outfielder Rick Ankiel, who signed with the team last week and will come to camp as a non-roster invitee. Ankiel played during the previous two seasons with Washington, where Porter was third-base coach.

Ankiel, who has hit 69 homers in 1,793 career Major League at-bats with St. Louis, Kansas City, Atlanta and Washington, will be among those competing for a spot in a wide-open outfield race. The fact he has a plus arm, can play all three outfield spots and bats left-handed should help his cause.

"When you look at our outfield configuration, it was one of those things we knew we had to add another bat," Porter said. "We wanted to find a guy out there who was left-handed, given that J.D. Martinez and [Justin] Maxwell are both right-handed, and Ankiel was a good fit all the way around.

"He's a veteran guy with great leadership ability, and I think he's going to add to the leadership in our clubhouse and add to the leadership on the field, as well. You look at our roster, you look at the opportunity that presents itself, there's a definite opportunity for Rick to come in here and play well and be part of our 25-man roster."

Ankiel broke into the Majors with the Cardinals and went 11-7 with a 3.50 ERA in 31 games (30 starts) in 2000 for St. Louis, but his sudden inability to throw strikes forced him to try his hand as a hitter. Since returning to the big leagues in 2004 as an outfielder, Ankiel has hit .246 with 67 homers and 224 RBIs in 558 games.