Isringhausen fires strikes in debut

Isringhausen fires strikes in debut

JUPITER, Fla. -- The box score rarely tells the whole story in Spring Training. For Jason Isringhausen on Thursday, it told a partial truth, but no more.

Yes, Isringhausen was facing a bases-loaded situation just three batters into his 2007 spring debut. But this wasn't fasten-your-seatbelts Izzy from 2006. It was just a pitcher throwing strikes and watching his opponent place a few balls perfectly.

Overall, Isringhausen turned in a solid performance in his first game following hip surgery last September. He allowed two infield hits and struck out a batter in one inning, throwing 16 pitches -- 14 of them for strikes.

"I was able to pitch," Isringhausen said. "I got in a jam and I was able to make some decent pitches when I needed to, so all in all a good day."

The first three hitters to face Isringhausen all reached base, but it was scarcely the right-hander's fault. And once he loaded the sacks, he retired the side, getting through his first inning of the year without a run crossing the plate.

Isringhausen was St. Louis' starting pitcher against the Dodgers in the Grapefruit League contest. He had not pitched in a game since Sept. 6 of last year.

A great deal hinges on a healthy and effective Isringhausen in St. Louis. The assumption that he will be ready helped drive the decision to put Adam Wainwright and Braden Looper in the starting rotation. In Isringhausen's absence, there is no obvious candidate to pitch the ends of games.

"He is a key cog in the wheel," said pitching coach Dave Duncan.

The Cardinals closer fell behind leadoff hitter Tony Abreu, 2-1, before getting back to 2-2. And he didn't throw another ball.

Abreu hit a comebacker that neither Isringhausen nor catcher Yadier Molina could turn into an out, and Isringhausen was charged with an error. Juan Pierre singled softly to left, past third baseman Scott Rolen, who was playing in to defend against a possible bunt. James Loney hit a chopper for an infield hit, loading the bases without a ball leaving the infield.

And that was all the Dodgers got against him. Isringhausen got ahead of Andy La Roche with an 0-2 count before La Roche popped up to second base. Andre Ethier struck out looking on an 0-2 cutter, and Matt Kemp lined out to left on his first pitch.

"A comebacker and a couple of bleeding things here and there, but at least I'm not walking them to put them on," Isringhausen said. "I did that a lot last year. So I'm happy with making them put the ball in play."

His teammates were happy to see him pitching at all.

"He's overcome a lot," said Wainwright, who closed in Isringhausen's absence in the 2006 postseason. "Nobody knows how bad he was hurting last year, except for him. We could all see it last year, and we can also see this year the difference in his stuff when he's healthy. He is just unbelievably nasty. So we are as a team excited to see him out there because he's going to help a lot. He's a big part of our team."

Isringhausen's next outing is scheduled for Sunday at home against the Mets.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.