Izzy will see first action this week

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The right-hander is on schedule to open the regular season as St. Louis' closer.

JUPITER, Fla. -- Jason Isringhausen is set to make his spring training debut Thursday, right on schedule.

The St. Louis Cardinals closer missed the World Series after hip surgery in September. He threw to hitters on a back field for the third time on Monday and by all accounts was sharp.

"He's looked better every time out," catcher Gary Bennett said. "He was locating everything."

Isringhausen was pain free, with no mechanical issues.

"I just didn't have to really think about anything today," he said. "I just went out there and threw the ball, and everything was in place where it was supposed to be."

Isringhausen had an NL-high 10 blown saves last year while pitching with pain that caused him to alter his delivery. He had eight losses -- one more than his total during his first four seasons in St. Louis -- and he surrendered 10 home runs.

Because of Isringhausen's improved health, the Cardinals plan to move postseason closer Adam Wainwright into the starting rotation. Isringhausen expects to make between seven and nine appearances during the rest of spring training, plenty of time to get ready for opening day.

"I feel like I could go out there and throw BP the rest of spring and be ready for a game," Isringhausen said. "But I want to get in a game and face some real hitters, somebody in a different uniform, so it'll be fun."

Isringhausen used the word "fun" a lot after his session, because that's what's been missing while the hip injury got progressively worse the last two seasons. Isringhausen was 10-for-10 in save situations last May but never felt healthy.

"The numbers were good," he said, "but in the same sense I think I was getting away with some pitches."

His progress this year has been steady. The first time he threw to hitters he was wondering how his hip would hold up when he lengthened his stride. The second time out he was preoccupied by his command.

"Today I wasn't worried about able to throw the ball where I wanted to."

Another reliever, Russ Springer, also is set to make his spring training debut on Thursday. Springer, who signed a one-year contract in December, has been hindered by a pulled muscle in his left side.

Springer has thrown in the bullpen without problems.

"I'll still feel it probably for a while," Springer said. "But as long as it isn't biting it's time to go ahead and push through everything and keep on rolling."

Outfielder Skip Schumaker, who sprained his left ankle running to first base on Sunday, said the injury was minor and that he'd be ready to play in a few days. Schumaker landed awkwardly on the bag, rolling the ankle inward.

Edmonds rehabs

Neither center fielder Jim Edmonds nor right fielder Juan Encarnacion have played while rehabbing from offseason surgeries. Encarnacion, coming off left wrist surgery, took batting practice for the third time and second straight day. His swing appeared effortless, but he had no idea when he'd be ready to play.

"Look is not the same as feel," he said.

Edmonds is rehabbing from offseason surgery on his right shoulder and left foot and thus far it's been slow going. He took batting practice for the first time Sunday. With three weeks to go before the season opener on April 1, there's no timetable even for his first spring training appearance.

"It would be great to be able to play opening day but I'm not going to lose my cool if something doesn't go perfectly as planned," Edmonds said. "If I make it I make it, and if I don't, I don't. Things have got to be pretty dead-on."

The Cardinals likely would open the year with So Taguchi in center field if Edmonds, 36, needs more time.

The foot surgery corrected a condition known as hammer toe and he has a steel plate insert in his shoe to prevent the toe from flexing. Edmonds expects the shoulder to come around in a few more weeks.

"The legs are heavy when I try to run and the shoulder's weak when I'm trying to swing, so I'm just trying to get caught up," Edmonds said.

He added: "I think what's making it harder is the length of time I stayed off my feet is making everything else tougher to come back from. I haven't done anything.

"I didn't do one thing as far as total body fitness for a couple of months."

Eckstein to return

Another injured Cardinal, shortstop David Eckstein, plans to return from a pulled right side muscle today. Eckstein has been limited to two at-bats this spring by a recurrence of an injury that caused him to miss 26 games last year.

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