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Veteran closer Isringhausen pleased to still be in running for Tampa Bay Rays bullpen job

PORT CHARLOTTE — RHP Jason Isringhausen came to camp with the Rays for a chance, and he's pleased with opening day less than two weeks away to still have one.

Isringhausen, 36, worked another inning Wednesday, allowing a run on two hits and a stolen base, giving him a 4.50 ERA through four outings. He is making a slight adjustment to his delivery and throwing more changeups, and most importantly he said his arm — having undergone September elbow surgery — feels good.

"I'm just trying to stick around," he said. "I look around and the place is dwindling, and I'm still here. Right now, no word is good word."

The Rays face a tough decision with the former All-Star closer, who said he is unlikely to accept any kind of assignment, even short term, to the minor leagues. "No. … I don't believe so. But that's right now," he said. "I'd have to sit down and talk with everybody."

Though there isn't a specific clause in his contract, he said there is an understanding that the Rays won't "wait until the very last minute" to decide so he'd have time to catch on with another team.

"Everything's fine, and I'm happy with the way things are going," he said. "I'm healthy, and that's all I care about it."

DRIVE FOR FIVE: RHP Jeff Niemann had a solid outing (one run, five hits in four innings) as the competition for the fifth starter's spot comes to its conclusion, with RHP Jason Hammel starting Saturday.

"I still have no idea what's really going on," Niemann said. "I just knew I needed to go out there and throw strikes … and turn in a good one, and I feel pretty good about it."

Manager Joe Maddon did, too, praising Niemann for keeping his fastball down and having good command of his off-speed pitches. "That's what we were looking for, that kind of a performance," he said. "We're looking at them both and it's tough to really narrow it down. I like what Jeff did tonight and we'll see how Hammer comes out."

WELCOME BACKS: LHP J.P. Howell rejoined the Rays after a 3½-week World Baseball Classic stint with Team USA and got the final three outs, allowing one hit.

Howell said he enjoyed the WBC experience but was "glad to be back here and get this thing going."

3B Evan Longoria, who spent three days with the team, also returned, going 1-for-3 against the Pirates, and was hit by a pitch in the eighth to force in the go-ahead run in the 4-2 win.

2B Akinori Iwamura, who trained in Japan before the tournament, was expected to arrive in Port Charlotte late Wednesday and make his first game appearance Friday.

OUTFIELD ACTION: OF Matt Joyce, acquired from Detroit in the trade for RHP Edwin Jackson, made his outfield debut in the ninth Wednesday and marks his return to Lakeland tonight with a start in center. "I'm excited to see the guys," he said. "It should be fun."

Maddon likes what he has seen of Joyce, who was sidelined until last week with right leg tendinitis. "I want to see more of Matt,'' he said. "I think he looks exceptional at the plate right now. I'm really becoming enamored with his swing actually. We've got to see him on defense.''

MISCELLANY: The crowd of 6,771 was the Rays' seventh sellout. … RHP Matt Garza threw 91 pitches in a minor-league intrasquad game Wednesday morning; RHP Grant Balfour and LHP Brian Shouse worked two innings each. … CF B.J. Upton continues his rehab today by playing five innings in a minor-league game. … ESPN's Dick Vitale was in the house.

Veteran closer Isringhausen pleased to still be in running for Tampa Bay Rays bullpen job 03/25/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 26, 2009 6:47am]
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