Izzy draws crowd for throwing session
Cardinals closer faces hitters for first time in six months
JUPITER, Fla. -- Inside Roger Dean Stadium on Tuesday afternoon, anxious fans and reporters hung on every pitch by Japanese phenom Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Red Sox. For the Cardinals, however, the most compelling pitching session of the day -- and of Spring Training to date -- happened a few hundred yards away and a couple of hours earlier.
Just about everyone on the grounds, from the front office to members of the coaching staff to active players to a couple of the club's Hall of Famers-in-residence, gathered around the batting cage on Field 1 of the RDS complex at 10:30 a.m. ET. They were on hand to watch Jason Isringhausen throw 24 pitches to outfielders Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick.
It was the first time Isringhausen had thrown to hitters in exactly six months -- dating back to a blown save on Sept. 6, 2006, that told the pitcher and his team that his injured left hip would no longer allow him to pitch. Isringhausen lamented less than perfect command, but he had consistent downward movement on four pitches, and his surgically repaired hip felt just fine.
"He threw the ball good," said pitching coach Dave Duncan, one of the roughly two dozen onlookers. "He wasn't real happy with his command, but I [reminded] him, it's the first time he's been against hitters. I'm looking at his stuff and his delivery, and I thought he kept his delivery together good and his stuff was good. His location will come later on."
No official count was kept, but unofficially 12 of Isringhausen's pitches were balls and 12 were strikes or put in play. He induced two swings and misses, three ground balls, two popups and a couple of decently struck balls to left field. Isringhausen broke two bats during the course of his throw.
"I felt good," he said. "My location wasn't that good, but I have to realize it's the first time I've faced hitters since September. My hip feels good and my arm feels good.
Isringhausen's throw drew a crowd that included Duncan, general manager Walt Jocketty and assistant general manager John Mozeliak, club legends Bob Gibson and Red Schoendienst, and a slew of teammates such as Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, David Eckstein and Braden Looper. Though the Redbirds played a game in Fort Lauderdale, Isringhausen was the biggest deal of the day.
He mixed in his entire repertoire, with plenty of cut fastballs and sinkers, the occasional curveball and even a single changeup. Of course they weren't all perfect. But the encouraging sign was that most of the pitches that missed their spots missed low. Curveballs bounced, and sinkers and cutters kept sinking and cutting. The flat pitches that plagued Isringhausen for much of 2006 were absent.
"It feels good because I can get through my pitches now," Isringhausen said. "I can finish them a little better. When I missed with my curveball, I missed down. Last year I missed up. Same thing with my cutter. I'm missing down and in, rather than over the middle of the plate, which is good. Now I just have to fine-tune that.
"I just want movement down. Just down in the zone."
Isringhausen remains targeted for a game appearance on March 15 at home against the Dodgers. He'll likely throw to hitters again in three days. The most reasonable ensuing path would be one more session on March 12, and then the game on the 15th.
But no one is writing any dates in ink. Isringhausen is a veteran of seven surgeries, and he's learned not to rush anything. If he needs to take an extra day or two, he'll be willing to. In 2003, coming off shoulder surgery, Isringhausen pushed it in the spring -- and he didn't pitch in a regular-season game until June.
"I'm not going to push it," he said. "I did that a few years ago and missed the first two months. That was stupid on my part. So this year I'm going by what the doctors say, and the trainers, and staying on schedule. And if it doesn't work, then I just step back a couple days and move everything back. It's the smart thing to do."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.