Rick Ankiel's comeback hit another rough patch on Monday as the St. Louis left-hander threw just three strikes in 26 batting practice pitches.
''I'm a little frustrated, but I have to think positive,'' Ankiel said from training camp in Jupiter, Fla.
The former phenom looked steady in previous outings and is trying to earn a spot on the staff. On Friday, Ankiel threw to hitters for the first time in spring training and kept them flailing during a 40-pitch performance.
He couldn't match that Monday.
''He was a little out of whack but he wasn't missing by much,'' Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. ''That happens to a lot of pitchers. It isn't anything that we are worried about.''
Ankiel arrived in 2000 at age 19 with a mid-90s fastball and a nasty curve that teammate Mark McGwire nicknamed the ''snapdragon.''
He earned 11 victories and recorded more than a strikeout per inning before wildness and an elbow injury derailed his career for nearly three seasons.
During the 2000 playoffs he threw nine wild pitches and walked four batters in four innings. Then came a pair of elbow injuries, the second requiring reconstructive surgery that forced him out for a year.
Ankiel appeared in five late-season games last year and earned his first victory since early in the 2001 season. La Russa briefly considered him for the postseason roster, but the Cardinals reached the World Series without him.
Their run ended when they were swept in four straight by the Boston Red Sox.
In other news, closer Jason Isringhausen, who had hip joint surgery in the offseason, threw batting practice for 15 minutes.
''I felt good,'' he said. ''Just working on keeping my fastball down.''
Outfielder Larry Walker, who has been nursing a sore back, took part in drills and batting practice.
At Clearwater, Fla., Phillies right-hander Vicente Padilla and third baseman David Bell were absent from camp Monday because of injuries that sidelined them in recent seasons.
Padilla had an MRI taken on his pitching elbow and was diagnosed with triceps tendinitis the same ailment that landed him on the disabled list for two months last season.
''I think it's more for peace of mind,'' general manager Ed Wade said. ''He had an MRI done last year, so they'll get those films down here and we'll compare them.''
Bell, who hasn't participated in a full day of workouts because of back spasms, flew to Dallas on Monday to have his back checked out. He'll continue on to Los Angeles on Tuesday for another exam.
''Hopefully it's just muscle spasms and he'll continue treatment,'' Wade said. ''Certainly when it's someone who had some back issues in the past, it's a reason for concern. You'd like to have everybody on the field.''
At Kissimmee, Fla., the Atlanta Braves had more talks on a contract extension for pitcher Tim Hudson.
Hudson set a Tuesday deadline for reaching a deal because he doesn't want to discuss his contract once exhibition games begin. He could become a free agent after the season.
Braves general manager John Schuerholz and assistant GM Frank Wren spoke several times by phone with Hudson's agent, Paul Cohen.
''I'm not going to say whether I'm optimistic or pessimistic, but the fact that we're talking and working hard is a good sign,'' Cohen said.
At Tampa, Fla., Gary Sheffield said he isn't interested in extending his contract with the New York Yankees.
The slugging right fielder is in the second season of a $39 million, three-year contract. The Yankees have a $13 million option for the 2007 season, and Sheffield wants to wait for this contract to run out before considering a new one.
''I don't want one,'' Sheffield said Monday. ''When this is over, that's it. When this deal is done, I don't look past it. I can't predict if somebody is going to want me.''
New York closer Mariano Rivera is also working his way back. He threw 43 pitches in his first batting practice session Monday, and could pitch in a spring training game next week.
''The way I feel, a week and I'll be throwing,'' Rivera said. ''Every day I'm feeling better and better. I'm going to see how I feel tomorrow and go from there.''
At Fort Myers, Fla., Red Sox right-hander Wade Miller, who hasn't thrown off a mound since last August because of a rotator-cuff injury, long-tossed from 210 feet.
He expects to throw an abbreviated bullpen session Tuesday.
''They want to take it slow, they don't want to rush me,'' Miller said. ''So in the back of their minds, the safest thing is probably starting the season on the DL and getting some work in down here. As far as I feel right now, I feel pretty good.''
Meanwhile, third baseman Bill Mueller is well ahead of schedule as he recovers from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
When the surgery was performed on Feb. 10 in Arizona, manager Terry Francona said he hoped to have Mueller back on the field by the second week of March, but Mueller is now expected to play in exhibition games around March 10.
At Dunedin, Fla., Toronto manager John Gibbons said the Blue Jays will carry 12 pitchers this season, and only one spot is still open in the bullpen.
Billy Koch, Scott Schoeneweis, Jason Frasor, Kerry Ligtenberg, Brandon League and closer Justin Speier have already locked up relief positions.
The Blue Jays got some encouraging news for their rotation as left-hander Ted Lilly (tendinitis left shoulder) could start throwing as early as Sunday.
At Peoria, Ariz., injury-prone Mariners outfielder Chris Snelling will undergo surgery Wednesday to repair a torn cartilage in his left knee. He is expected to be out of action for six weeks.
Snelling tore a ligament in the same knee during the 2001 season. He missed the entire 2004 season because of operations on his right hand and wrist.
At Tempe, Ariz., newly appointed Angels closer Frankie Rodriguez finally arrived at spring training after resolving visa problems in his native Venezuela.
Rodriguez, 23, inherited the role from longtime closer Troy Percival, who signed with the Detroit Tigers.
At Surprise, Ariz., Pedro Astacio and Ricardo Rodriguez, pitchers the Texas Rangers hope will be in their starting rotation, threw scoreless innings in the first intrasquad game of the spring.
Rodriguez's season ended in July last year when his right elbow was broken by a line drive.
Astacio, a 35-year-old right-hander with just one start since shoulder surgery in 2003, signed as a free agent.
Astacio threw 13 pitches, allowing only a one-out double to outfielder Ramon Nivar. He got his outs on a grounder and two flyballs.
''I don't feel I have to prove I'm healthy, but every game, every pitching opportunity is important,'' Astacio said. ''It's good to see some hitters. That's what spring is all about.''
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