Around the Grapefruit League

St. Louis Cardinals: Jason Isringhausen made his first game
appearance since hip surgery last year, pitching a scoreless inning
Thursday for the Cardinals against the Dodgers.

The closer allowed the Dodgers to load the bases with no outs in
the first, then escaped trouble.

Isringhausen, relying heavily on his breaking ball, threw 14 of
16 pitches for strikes. He had a career-high 10 blown saves last
year before surgery in September.

"I wanted to judge my stuff and I was able to keep guys off
balance," Isringhausen said. "Even though there were base hits,
they weren't hit real hard."

Adam Wainwright relieved to start the season inning. He filled
as closer during the postseason, helping the Cardinals win their
first World Series title since 1982, and now is part of the
starting rotation.

Elsewhere in the Grapefruit League:

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New York Mets: Oliver Perez shut down Boston's big hitters in an impressive outing, striking out David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez twice each during the New York Mets' 4-1 victory.

Perez, who appears close to securing a spot in New York's rotation, fanned nine batters in five scoreless innings. He allowed three hits and walked none.

Mets ace Pedro Martinez arrived in the fourth inning and watched from the dugout in street clothes. He laughed from the dugout steps in the seventh when rookie sidearm specialist Joe Smith threw a fastball behind Ramirez.

The Mets cut six players, optioning pitching prospects Philip Humber, Jason Vargas, and Marcos Carvajal and outfield prospect Carlos Gomez to the minors
while reassigning OF Ruben Sierra and C Jose A. Reyes to minor league camp.

General manager Omar Minaya said Sierra did not indicate whether he would accept the reassignment, saying he wanted some time to think about it.

Toronto Blue Jays: Josh Towers continues to strengthen his case to earn a spot in Toronto's rotation. Towers pitched four solid innings, Vernon Wells homered twice
and Reed Johnson added a solo shot to lead the Blue Jays over the Philadelphia Phillies 11-6.

After a terrible season, the once-promising Towers entered
spring training as a non-roster player. But he's allowed only two runs in nine innings to make manager John Gibbons' decision a tough one.

Towers is competing with Tomo Ohka, Victor Zambrano, John Thomson and Shaun Marcum for the final two spots behind Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett and Gustavo Chacin in the Blue Jays' rotation.

Toronto optioned RHP Dustin McGowan to Triple-A Syracuse before the game. "I know what I need to do to get back," McGowan said.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Zach Duke was picked to start
the Pirates' season opener April 2 at Houston -- a 3-hour
drive from his childhood home in Clifton, Texas.

"It's always special to pitch in Houston, but it's a great
honor to know I'm going to pitch in the opener there," Duke said.
"I don't get too excited about things, but it's hard not to be
excited about this news. I'm glad I found out now because I'm going
to need a few weeks to find enough tickets for everyone who will
want to be there."

Manager Jim Tracy said his choice came down to Duke or Ian
Snell, who is scheduled to pitch the home opener against the
defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals on April 9.

Duke was 10-15 with a 4.47 ERA in 34 starts last season, giving
up an NL-high 255 hits.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.