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Isringhausen nervous but impressive in spring debut for Tampa Bay Rays

PORT CHARLOTTE — RHP Jason Isringhausen has thrown countless spring training innings in a career that has included 293 saves and a World Series title.

But Isringhausen, 36, acknowledged that his Rays debut Sunday —his first outing since offseason elbow surgery — brought back the "jitters." After all, the veteran is competing for a job "for the first time in 14 years."

Isringhausen said he was "tentative" to the first two hitters he faced — a hard-hit triple and sacrifice fly — but got the next two, including a strikeout of Craig Monroe on a nasty cutter.

And he received good reviews from manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey, who were encouraged by not only what Isringhausen threw but what it said about his health.

"I thought he did really good," Hickey said. "He probably did more than was necessary early in the inning, throwing a couple curveballs and the cutter early, and that's fine. That's just an indication that he feels good. But I was really impressed: good fastball, good fastball velocity, curveballs that were sharp, struck that guy out with a cutter slash slider, which was really, really good. For me (it was) perfect."

Isringhausen said his arm feels good, but he still has work to do in building up his endurance in his arm and legs. He wants to pitch in "every game I can" — likely seven or eight appearances — but Hickey said Isringhausen is right where he needs to be.

"It's fun to still get those nerves," Isringhausen said. "It's been a while; I want those butterflies. If I lose those, I don't want to be in there anymore."

PERCI UPDATE: Maddon said RHP Troy Percival was "really sharp" in his second spring outing, a 1-2-3 fifth. "That was as good as I've seen (Percival) in a while," Maddon said.

Percival said he felt great and "took the next step" in his recovery from offseason back surgery in getting his fastball down in the zone. He estimated he topped out at 90-93 mph, but was focused on his mechanics, and Hickey liked how he got two outs on changeups.

IN THE SWING: CF B.J. Upton got a look at live pitching at the minor-league side of the complex, another step in his rehab following left shoulder surgery. Upton said it was more to start "seeing the spins in the rotation on different pitches and things like that," and he took only a few swings, not getting the ball out of the infield. Upton estimated he might play in a spring game a week or two before the team breaks camp.

PRICE CHECK: LHP David Price makes his second appearance of the spring tonight in relief of Andy Sonnanstine, planning to showcase the changeup the Rays want to see. "The more confidence I can build with that, the better,'' he said.

GAME DETAILS: RHP Matt Garza said he felt great after pitching four scoreless innings, being able to command his breaking balls when he needed to. Garza had a live fastball, saying he has been using his legs more, which is "huge for me." DH Pat Burrell had two hits, SS Reid Brignac hit a homer and the Rays took a 7-3 lead. But the Pirates scored four in the ninth on back-to-back homers off RHP Joe Nelson to make it a 7-7 tie. Nelson has given up four homers in three spring appearances.

MISCELLANY: The teams will use a DH tonight, with Burrell in the lineup for the Rays. SS Jason Bartlett, 3B Evan Longoria, RF Gabe Kapler and C Dioner Navarro are also scheduled.

Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report.

Isringhausen nervous but impressive in spring debut for Tampa Bay Rays 03/15/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 16, 2009 6:37am]
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