Notes: Productive session for Izzy
Improved command for Cardinals closer against live batters
JUPITER, Fla. -- Jason Isringhausen threw strikes and heard cheers Friday. All in all, it was a good day for the right-hander.
Isringhausen threw 29 pitches to hitters in his second session of live batting practice, with 19 of his tosses going for strikes. That was an improvement from a 50-50 ball-strike ratio in his first time facing hitters.
"It's a step forward -- a [much] better day than it was the other day, control-wise, and I was able to keep the ball down," said Isringhausen, who is recovering from a surgically repaired left hip. "I elevated it when I wanted to. Good cutter, good curveball, good changeups. So, [it was] better."
Four hitters took simulated at-bats against Isringhausen: Tagg Bozied, Travis Hanson, Rick Ankiel and Edgar Gonzalez. Isringhausen struck out Hanson looking on a curveball and walked Gonzalez once. The remaining seven at-bats all ended with balls in play, ranging from a weak chopper and a soft comebacker to a couple of well-struck balls to the outfield.
Once again, a huge cadre of Cardinals players and staff looked on. Manager Tony La Russa, general manager Walt Jocketty, assistant general manager John Mozeliak, pitching coach Dave Duncan, bullpen coach Marty Mason and three-fifths of the St. Louis starting rotation all gathered at Field 6 of the Cards complex.
"I thought he was outstanding," Duncan said. "He continues to take it up a level each time he goes out there, whether it's quality of pitches or control or stamina or whatever. Izzy is doing real well, I think."
A huge mass of fans observed the session, and they received the reliever warmly. Isringhausen received a spirited ovation from the crowd as he walked off the mound.
Isringhausen downplayed the cheers, but he said he appreciated them.
"It's fine," he said. "There wasn't [anything] else going on, so they had nothing else to watch."
To others, though, it was a big deal.
"I think the true Cardinal fans realize what Izzy went through last year and appreciate it," Duncan said.
Isringhausen threw a wide array of pitches, including a sinker, a four-seam fastball, a cut fastball, a curveball and a changeup. He said that he expects much of his pitching this year to center around a cutter-sinker combination.
The next step for Isringhausen is one more session against hitters, set for Monday. If all goes well, he would then pitch in a game Thursday, March 15.
Kennedy expects to start: Adam Kennedy said Friday morning that he will likely be in the lineup for the Cardinals on Saturday. It will be his first start of the Grapefruit League season. Kennedy has been sidelined since before games started due to a strained oblique muscle.
Kennedy's double-play partner, David Eckstein, remains several days away from game action. La Russa said that the best case for Eckstein's return to the lineup is "next week sometime.
"He could play over the [following] weekend. That would give him two weeks to get ready. I'm not real concerned about him."
Kennedy is listed on the travel roster for Saturday's game in Fort Lauderdale.
Thompson, Reyes shine: Anthony Reyes and Brad Thompson, both competing for jobs in the starting rotation, turned in excellent performances in Friday's 4-1 win. Reyes struck out four over 3 2/3 innings, allowing only a solo homer. Thompson breezed through 3 1/3 efficient frames with two hits, no walks and three Ks.
Reyes is a favorite to make the Opening Day rotation. Thompson's role is more up in the air, but Duncan took away some of the mystery regarding the righty after Friday's game. Asked whether Thompson might be sent to the Minor Leagues in order to develop as a starter, Duncan dismissed the possibility.
"I don't think we're going to be afforded the luxury of Thompson not being on our club," Duncan said. "I think he's going to be too important to us to consider something like that, whatever role he plays."
If Thompson does not make the starting rotation, Duncan said that he could be a serious candidate to serve as a late-inning setup man.
Thompson is just trying to make the Major League roster, and he bolstered his case Friday. He threw a sharp slider, complementing an excellent sinker that he has had all spring.
"I had a few guys that I started them off with a breaking ball for a strike, and they weren't expecting it," Thompson said. "Everybody's expecting that sinker right away, especially with a guy like me. Everybody knows that that's my pitch."
Taguchi, Wilson scuffling: So Taguchi entered Friday's game with an unappealing 1-for-17 line in Grapefruit League play, and La Russa acknowledged the outfielder is scuffling. It follows a subpar 2006 Spring Training in which Taguchi hit .222.
"I think he looks off," La Russa said. "I think he's better than he was last year, because the wind has kicked him a few times. I think he's going about it a little better. But he's not having a big spring. I think he's starting to press a little bit."
Taguchi's spot on the roster is all but certain. At-bats, however, are not.
"If he's looking for a lot of playing time, then you've got to produce a lot," said the manager.
Taguchi picked up a pair of hits Friday, bringing his spring mark up to .143.
For Preston Wilson, however, Friday's game only deepened the early-spring struggles. Wilson was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, making him 1-for-12 with eight Ks since he returned from biceps tendinitis.
"I think most big guys who have longer swings, it takes us a little bit longer," Wilson said. "I've been that way my whole career. I've never had a great Spring Training."
La Russa said that while Wilson will continue to get at-bats in the coming days, he may need to perform at a higher level to guarantee a prominent role on the team in the regular season.
Broadcast info: Both Saturday and Sunday's games will be carried on KTRS and the Cardinals Radio Network as well as on MLB.com's Gameday Audio. Additionally, St. Louis will make its spring television debut Sunday, with the home game against Atlanta being carried on KSDK TV-5 and MLB.TV.
Weather report: Saturday's forecast looks a lot like Friday's. It's expected to be 81 degrees in Fort Lauderdale at first pitch Saturday, with partly cloudy skies and winds around 10 mph.
Coming up: The Cardinals make their second trip to Fort Lauderdale this week for a 12:05 p.m. CT game against the Orioles on Saturday. It's a matchup of two of the game's brightest young pitching talents, as Adam Wainwright takes the mound for St. Louis and lefty Adam Loewen starts for the Orioles. Troy Cate, Mike Smith, Ricardo Rincon and Andy Cavazos are all slated to follow Wainwright.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.