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Angels' Jason Isringhausen: the 'Old Guy' rules

Pushing 40, the reliever has given up only 17 hits and five earned runs this season, with a career-best 1.73 earned-run average. Not bad for a guy who's had three reconstructive surgeries on his elbow.

June 25, 2012|By Andrew L. John

Jason Isringhausen, an 18-year veteran of the major leagues, has a pitching resume most would envy. A two-time All-Star, he has 300 saves in his career, including a National League-leading 47 in 2004 while with the St. Louis Cardinals.

But at this stage in his career — he's three months shy of his 40th birthday — his Angels teammates commonly refer to him as "The Old Guy."

Relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins described Isringhausen walking around the clubhouse as if he just emerged from the movie "Grumpy Old Men."

"What was the name of that guy in that movie?" asked Hawkins, who is less than three months younger than Isringhausen. "I'm going to find out and that'll be Izzy's new nickname."

But even Hawkins can't deny Isringhausen is defying his age this season. In 26 innings, he has given up only 17 hits and five earned runs, resulting in a career-best 1.73 earned-run average — better than either of his All-Star campaigns.

As a result of his productivity, Isringhausen is pitching more with the game on the line, most recently Friday night in an 8-5 win over the Dodgers. He was inserted with a lead in the eighth inning and retired all three batters, setting up a save for Ernesto Frieri.

"I think I'm playing as well as I ever have," Isringhausen said Sunday.

Four months ago, Isringhausen wasn't even sure he'd play this season. After the third elbow reconstruction surgery of his career, he was without a team until the Angels came calling a few days into spring training.

Reconstructive elbow surgery — commonly referred to as "Tommy John" surgery— has saved the career of a multitude of major league pitchers. But not every player makes a full recovery. Coming back from two is unlikely. Coming back from three is unfathomable.

"Every time you have an injury, you never know how you're going to come back from it," Isringhausen said. "I've had enough of them now that I can kind of gauge how I'm going to come back from it."

During spring training, Isringhausen was not where he wanted to be physically, and wasn't even sure he'd make the team. In eight subpar innings, he gave up 14 hits and had an ERA of 11.25. Pitching coach Mike Butcher said the plan was to bring him along slowly, giving him opportunities to prove himself along the way.

For two months of the regular season, Isringhausen rarely entered the game with the Angels holding a lead. But with the club posting a record of 14-7 in June, he has been given opportunities to pitch in tighter situations.

And he has produced, especially lately. Isringhausen has given up only one earned run and five hits in his last 14 appearances.

"There's no doubt he's emerged into a more prominent role in the bullpen," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's held up well and he's getting great results.… His stuff has emerged to where it's really effective."

Isringhausen is not throwing 97 mph as he did in his younger days, but his fastball is still in the low 90s. Sciocia said that's hard enough, especially now that he can put the ball in better spots than when he was younger.

Isringhausen said the elbow feels fine now, and as long as he remains healthy he believes he can continue to pitch at a high level.

Although he's the oldest player on the Angels' roster, he said he feels as good physically as he has in years.

"It's a credit to Izzy and how he battled back," Butcher said. "He's a gamer. He still loves the game, competes his butt off, and his stuff is still really good."

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