Cardinals manager La Russa expects longtime closer Isringhausen to help the Tampa Bay Rays

JUPITER — RHP Jason Isringhausen hasn't thrown in a game for the Rays yet, but manager Joe Maddon said the veteran closer, like RHP Troy Percival, is progressing well from surgery and "could be very impactful this season."

That wouldn't surprise Tony La Russa, who managed Isringhausen with the Cardinals the past seven seasons.

Isringhausen, 36, who has 293 career saves, has impressed in bullpen sessions since his elbow surgery in September. When the Rays signed the former All-Star to a minor-league contract in February, he was thought to add some depth as Percival and RHP Chad Bradford recover from surgery.

But to La Russa, Isringhausen could do more than that.

"I think he's got a lot left (in him)," La Russa said. "I think whatever he said, he knows. He said he's feeling good, so he's got a lot left."

Isringhausen, a dominant closer for most of the past decade, had just 12 saves in a frustrating 2008 season that included physical problems (knee, elbow).

"Once in a while, an injury bit him," La Russa said. "But he's very tough-minded about fighting through it. Just because he's hurting a little bit, he doesn't stop pitching. … When he goes out there, he really isn't afraid of anything. Not afraid of a hitter. Not afraid of any situation."

Isringhausen isn't slated to pitch in a spring game until mid March.

Strong start: RHP Wade Davis may indeed be, as Maddon says, "an absolute long shot" to win the fifth spot in the rotation. But for his second straight spring start, the touted Rays prospect tried "to show them I'm here to pitch in the big leagues." One week after Davis struck out the likes of Yankee sluggers Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, the right-hander shut out the Cardinals on Monday in 3 2/3 innings, giving up just one hit and quieting the bat of Albert Pujols.

Maddon was impressed with Davis' strike-throwing, his tempo and poise. "He's doing everything right right now," Maddon said. "He's making a wonderful impression. We have a lot of belief in this guy; we believe he's going to be a big part of us in the future. Getting a chance to see him now is pretty interesting."

Miller time: Cardinals LHP Trever Miller, an ex-Ray, welcomed some old friends in Monday's exhibition with hugs and handshakes.

"They told me I look good in red," Miller said, grinning.

Then Miller, 35, who signed with St. Louis in the offseason, struck out the only three Tampa Bay hitters he faced.

The veteran relief specialist said he loves his new situation with the Cardinals, a team he said he always wanted to play for while growing up in Louisville, Ky. But Miller, who was on the mound when the Rays clinched their first playoff berth last season, remembers his time with Tampa Bay fondly.

"The Rays will always be my favorite team I played for," said Miller, who played in Tampa Bay in 2004-05 and 2008. "Being able to take that team from where it was to where it is now, I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for that."

Game details: 3B Evan Longoria went 2-for-2 with an RBI double and a walk as the Rays (2-4) won 8-5. SS Ray Olmedo also had two hits.

Miscellany: The MLB Network will stop at Charlotte Sports Park today, with fans getting the opportunity to get interviewed by Harold Reynolds and the MLB Tonight team.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Cardinals manager La Russa expects longtime closer Isringhausen to help the Tampa Bay Rays 03/02/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 3, 2009 8:15am]

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