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."

Nats being overly cautious with injured players

JUPITER, Fla. -- Mike Morse's injury might be the most concerning in Nationals camp, but he is not the only key player nursing some pain.

First baseman Adam LaRoche and pitchers Drew Storen, Chien-Ming Wang and Sean Burnett are all missing time due to injury, and each has a different timeline set for their return.

"We're going to be overly cautious with everybody because it's Spring Training," manager Davey Johnson said. "I think all those guys are close, as far as timing wise and conditioning wise, but we just can't take a chance on pushing anyone."

LaRoche is dealing with a foot injury, but Johnson believes it will be "a week or so, maybe a couple of weeks" before he can return.

"When I played basketball or baseball, if you sprained something, you wrapped it up and played, and it took a month and then you didn't know about it," Johnson said. "But now if you rest it for two weeks and then you tape it up, it's still going to bother you for two more weeks. I just don't want to do anything that could re-injure something and turn it into a longer injury."

Storen has some discomfort in his throwing arm and has had further tests done to determine the cause and severity of the discomfort. Johnson wants the 24-year-old to be completely healthy when he returns, because he envisions using him in an important role this season.

"We're going to be very cautious with him," Johnson said. "The way he pitches, his arm is in tremendous shape. His velocity is great and the movement is good. He threw a lot of innings last year. We need him to build up some innings. He's my closer. For him, I want to make sure he is 100 percent healthy and he doesn't do too much, because he's going to be my closer."

Wang was making a case to be the Nationals' fifth starter before a hamstring injury sidelined him. The right-hander hurt his hamstring covering first base on March 15 and has not pitched since.

"With Chein-Ming, he feels good and he played catch today," Johnson said. "But after I saw that bruise, I don't want to do anything, especially with a hammy."

Burnett seems like the only injured National with a promising outlook. The left-hander has been dealing with back spasms, but Johnson believes he will be ready to pitch soon.

"I saw him today on the training table and he was a lot better," Johnson said. "I know a lot about backs, more than probably anybody, since I've had two back operations and been through everything conceivable with the back. It can kill you to the point where you can't walk, and then you get rid of the spasms and you feel like a million dollars. I would say probably a couple more days. His arm is in great shape. He's throwing great."

The injured Nationals will be staying at the team's facility in Viera, Fla., this week while the team travels across the state to play Grapefruit League games on the road. Johnson hopes the outlook will be clearer at the conclusion of the Nationals' road trip this weekend.

"I think by the end of this road trip there will hopefully be some clarity on all of those guys," Johnson said. "We still have 10 days left and 11 games down here, so I'm not in panic mode about it. I'm hoping that after this road trip, we'll know who can do what and when, and if they're in any danger of re-injuring it playing. I'm going to really push for having more clarity by Sunday."

Gio has positive outlook after tough start

JUPITER, Fla. -- Gio Gonzalez is one of the bright young pitching stars in the big leagues today, but the 26-year-old is still learning.

Gonzalez, who won 16 games last year and earned his first All-Star appearance, was rocked by the Cardinals for eight runs on 10 hits over 3 2/3 innings on Thursday. Despite the tough outing, the talented lefty has a positive outlook on his day.

"I felt like I was throwing pretty good pitches," Gonzalez said. "They were just making contact. You're going to have those days. The good part about today is that it's Spring Training. You work on stuff."

Acquired in a trade from the Athletics, Gonzalez will be pitching in the National League for the first time in his career. Thursday was the first time he stepped in the batter's box since joining the Nationals, and he admitted that it was affecting his game a little bit.

"I definitely wanted to work on swinging it and also going out there to pitch," Gonzalez said. "That up and down process takes some out of you, but you realize, 'Man, I'm going to be doing this a lot.' I think there are things that I want to go back and work on like going out pitching, hitting and then going back. There are some things I want to try that I think will help. But at the same time, I'm not going to overload today into the thinking process. It's just one of those days. You move forward and that's it."

Gonzalez took some positives from his tough outing. The young lefty made sure to take note of many things the Cardinals did against him. He hopes to use that knowledge to be better prepared for when he faces them in the regular season.

"What I want to work on is better pitches and better selection, keeping the ball down, learning to hit my spots, mixing it up on certain counts and learning certain hitters that are very aggressive right off the bat," Gonzalez said.

"There were certain hitters that I can go back and say out of three at-bats he's seen four pitches. That lets you know right off the bat that there are certain guys that are going to swing no matter what. That's a positive thing to learn now before the season starts."