PORT CHARLOTTE — The two old guys — or "elder statesmen," as pitching coach Jim Hickey preferred — threw well in bullpen sessions Monday, continuing progress that could greatly enhance the depth and experience of the Rays bullpen.
Jason Isringhausen's 35-pitch session was his first since signing a minor-league deal with the Rays on Friday, and manager Joe Maddon liked what he saw from the 36-year-old right-hander who ranks fifth among active pitchers with 293 saves.
"He looked pretty good," Maddon said. "I'd never seen him in person before. I thought he was pretty firm today. I thought he threw the ball well, and I think he felt pretty good about himself. … He threw his fastball, he threw his curveball, he threw a changeup, I think he threw a couple sliders or cutters. He was totally unencumbered. … It was in the glove; he had a lot of pop on the ball. It was kinda nice to see."
Isringhausen, who had been throwing on his own to complete his recovery from September elbow surgery, said it was an uneventful session.
"Feels fine," he said. "No news is good news."
Troy Percival, 39, is aiming to be ready by opening day after December back surgery and said after his third bullpen session that he "feels great." Game action will be a more telling test, and his debut is scheduled for around March 16.
And Jake McGee did well in his first session throwing off a mound since his Tommy John elbow surgery July 8, with a schedule to return to minor-league action late this summer. "That was exciting, especially when a guy has put so much work and effort and time into it," Hickey said. "The ball came out of his hand tremendously."
Crowded house: With a Charlotte Sports Park open house crowd estimated at 3,000 looking on, the Rays went through a spirited workout on the stadium field Monday that served as a good run-through for Wednesday's exhibition opener.
"That was tremendous," Maddon said. "There was a lot of energy in the practice. That was incredible. … We had great work. It was enjoyable."
Maddon said the infield dirt played well, though the firmness needed to be fine-tuned, and with the wind blowing in the park played "big." He likes that in spring training for the mental benefits, getting the hitters to use more of the field rather than trying to hit the ball out and allowing pitchers to be more aggressive and more confident.
Pitching in: As with the starters, the returning relievers aren't scheduled for their first game action until around March 6-7, meaning the first eight exhibitions will be handled by a crew of 18-19 mostly extra hands, Hickey said. One exception is LHP J.P. Howell, who will pitch Wednesday and Saturday to prepare to join the U.S. World Baseball Classic squad on Sunday.
Miscellany: 1B Carlos Peña said he hadn't heard anything new about his financial assets, frozen as part of the Stanford Financial investigation, being released. … The annual meeting with Don Fehr and players union officials is Wednesday. … Final Classic rosters come out today, and barring something unexpected, Howell will be part of Team USA and 3B Evan Longoria won't be.