Isringhausen takes another step toward returning to Card bullpe

Saturday, May 31, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen threw to hitters for the second time this week on Friday, taking another step toward what may be a brief rehab stint.

Isringhausen threw about 30 pitches and felt better and in more command that he had on Tuesday. He's scheduled to throw one more time, either Sunday or next Tuesday, depending on how he feels, and after that will go on a rehab assignment.

"You've got to be fair to him and fair to us," pitching coach Dave Duncan said. "I think it's going to just take a real accurate evaluation of how he throws the ball when he's out on rehab."

The Cardinals couldn't be blamed for being impatient. The bullpen has blown 14 of 25 save opportunities without Isringhausen, who had 32 saves in 37 chances last year.

Isringhausen looked sharp, mixing breaking balls with fastballs, throwing for strikes most of the time and pitching without pain.

"This is as good as I've felt in a long time," Isringhausen said. "Tomorrow could be another story, but I don't foresee anything being wrong."

The Cardinals had considered activating Isringhausen, on the 15-day disabled list since March 21 following offseason shoulder surgery, without sending him to the minors. But they believe a rehab is the safer course, and Isringhausen agrees.

"I probably need to go on a rehab and face hitters again and get the adrenaline going again before I face major league hitters again," Isringhausen said. "There's people in the stands, there's actually a game at stake, there's an umpire calling balls and strikes and you've got a defense behind you, so you want to do well."

Isringhausen wasn't that comfortable throwing on Tuesday, his first test against hitters in more than a month.

"You're kind of hesitant to throw the ball inside, because you don't know where the ball is going to go, and I don't want to hurt any of my players," Isringhausen said. "But today I felt a little more comfortable throwing everything."

Left-hander Lance Painter, on the DL with a hamstring injury since April 11, also threw to hitters Friday and is headed to Jupiter, Fla., for extended spring training. He's scheduled to pitch Sunday.

Painter still is having trouble moving off the mound, for ground balls or for covering first base.

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