Final Bird joins flock as Rincon arrives

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The new left-hander quickly made peace with La Russa.

JUPITER, Fla. -- Ricardo Rincon finally made it to the St. Louis Cardinals' spring training camp Monday, and immediately began throwing live batting practice.

The 35-year-old left-handed reliever, signed to a two-year, $2.9 million free-agent contract in December, had been a no-show, fighting visa problems in his native Mexico. Rincon wasted little time in meeting with manager Tony La Russa to smooth any hard feelings.

"I talked to Tony and he's happy now," Rincon said.

La Russa said Rincon has been working out in Mexico, so he decided to have him throw live batting practice. He threw to a group that included Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, David Eckstein, Junior Spivey, Chris Duncan and Rick Ankiel.

"He has been working, but there's a difference between throwing to friends at home and our guys in camp," La Russa said.

The workouts on Monday were the last before the Cardinals begin exhibition play today against Florida Atlantic. The first game against a major league team is Thursday against the New York Mets in Jupiter.

Rolen, coming back from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss most of last season, continued to show good progress and could play by this weekend, La Russa said.

"I think he's doing everything at the plate ahead of what we expected," La Russa said. "I haven't really talked to him about this weekend, but my guess is he'll probably play."

The practice was concluded with an intrasquad scrimmage in which two teams of 10 players received two at-bats in a simulated game format against pitching instructor Mark Riggins. Skip Schumaker, Duncan and Ankiel all homered in an 8-8 tie.

La Russa said Ankiel will start in center field against Florida Atlantic.

"I'm excited for any type of game competition we can give him," La Russa said. "He's been looking aggressive and for opportunities to swing. He jumped into live pitchers right away. Whenever we can get him playing time, I'm excited with it."

Most of the Cardinals regulars will sit out Tuesday's game and start against the Mets. Jeff Suppan will start on the mound for St. Louis. Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter will start Friday against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

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