Third basemen David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman grew up in neighboring towns and played on the same AAU team as kids. The two are now among the top third basemen in the game.

Monday, the duo went a combined 6-for-6 at the plate in the Nationals' 9-6 win over the Mets.

"We never talked about it then," Wright told the Washington Post about he and Zimmerman both making the Majors. "But it's pretty amazing to think of now."

"I think we both like where we're at," Zimmerman said, "and it's kind of fun to think about facing each other so much."

Wright was older than Zimmerman and considered the hot prospect when they played on the Tidewater Orioles.

"He was small," Wright said. "You could tell he had a good approach at the plate and good tools, but he just wasn't the physical guy he is now."

Today, Zimmerman is both taller and heavier than Wright.

"There were a couple of years where we kind of lost contact, when I was in the Minors and he was in college," Wright said, "and then I saw him in his sophomore year at the University of Virginia, and it was unbelievable. He was a totally different kid. He matured."

Wright and Zimmerman have worked out together in the offseason, but this year Wright remained in New York after signing a multi-year deal. They still keep tabs on what the other is doing.

"We all want to try and outplay each other and one-up each other," Wright said. "It's fun, because I think it pushes us. He sees me lift a certain weight, and Zimm's going to try to do that much more. I see him do something, I'm going to try to outdo it."

When they're not competing against each other, they easily root for the other to succeed. Wright sent Zimmerman a congratulatory text mail last year after he hit a home run to beat the Yankees.

"As cheesy as it sounds," Wright said, "you're proud of each other."

Izzy ready for action: St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen continues to make strides toward being ready for Opening Day, and on Monday threw 28 pitches in a back-field session that caught the attention of many Redbirds brass -- and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who was visiting manager Tony La Russa.

After snapping the bat of Rick Ankiel and giving Eli Marrero fits, the team believes that Izzy is ready to get into a game on Thursday for the first time this spring.

"The doctor, the trainers, the pitcher, the pitching coach and the bullpen coach all agree he should pitch Thursday," La Russa told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. "That's a big body of opinion I respect."

Isringhausen, who struggled last spring with an arthritic left hip, said after the session that he's much more comfortable this year than he was in 2006.

"Last year when I did that there was [no strength] there," Isringhausen recalled. "The first time [this spring] I was worried about that. The second time I was worried about my command more. Today I wasn't worried about anything but just throwing the ball, and I was able to throw the ball where I wanted to."

Zambrano gets a little ahead of himself on the basepaths: Chicago Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano can swing a bat, but at the end of the day he makes his living on the mound. But when Zambrano was running between second and third base and fell down on Monday, everyone in Cubs Nation held his breath as they watched him tumble.

"If it was a different ballpark, I'd be shy and embarrassed," Zambrano told the Chicago Tribune. "But when the crowd started laughing and clapping, I was like, 'Don't worry about it. It doesn't hurt.' That's why I jumped twice -- to let them know I'm fine."

It looked like Zambrano was considering going for an inside-the-park home run when his tumble landed him on his left shoulder.

"I just thought I could go three, or maybe somebody would bobble the ball, and maybe I'd go home," Zambrano said. "I thought about [an inside-the-parker] when I stepped on second and they didn't have the ball. I like to play hard, play it right and hustle all the time."

Third base coach Mike Quade said after the game that he was considering, on his 50th birthday no less, tackling Zambrano if he tried to run through his stop sign.

"The third-base coach better hold him because he wanted to go for an inside-the-parker," manager Lou Piniella said. "But he didn't get that far."

Piniella was definitely fine with Quade's plan to make a tackle.

"He should've," Piniella said with a grin. "I told Zambrano, 'Get a stand-up double and forget [about a homer].' He's an athlete. He was just picking up speed around second."

Gagne takes another step forward: Texas Rangers closer Eric Gagne had another positive step in his recovery from arm and back surgeries the last two years as he made his first appearance of the spring Monday, throwing 11 pitches in a B game against Milwaukee Minor Leaguers.

Gagne admitted he was a little nervous.

"It's going to take a while before you don't have any doubts in your mind," he told the Dallas Morning News. "I know I can do it, but I still have to prove it.

"It felt like my first time in the Major Leagues. I couldn't quite get my legs under me. It was just good to be out there finally after so long."

Gagne will probably pitch again Thursday in a simulated game or Minor League exhibition, but there is a chance he could pitch Friday against San Diego.

Manager Ron Washington, who wants to have Gagne face only National League clubs this spring, was pleased with Gagne's outing Monday.

"It was a good first outing," Washington said. "He's happy, then I'm happy."

Rockies like the look of Iannetta: Colorado Rockies rookie Chris Iannetta is all but set to be the team's Opening Day catcher.

Iannetta has improved his defensive skills behind the plate and shown enough at the plate to leave the Rockies confident in his abilities to be a solid catcher this year.

"We've seen improvement in him as a receiver," manager Clint Hurdle told the Rocky Mountain News. "We know he has arm strength, and the accuracy is there. With a limited learning curve with our pitchers, he knows what they need to do. He is confident in his game-calling. He looks more relaxed."

Iannetta said he is much more relaxed with the team now after going from Double-A to Triple-A to the Majors last season. He also realizes he does not have the starting catcher's job yet.

"[Last year's callup] was big," Iannetta said. "When I first came up, I put a lot of pressure on myself. I thought I had to be perfect. I struggled a little, and then just started playing the game like I had always played it."

Arm injury is out of Fossum's mind: Tampa Bay pitcher Casey Fossum, who is coming off left shoulder surgery six months ago, looked good on the mound Monday after throwing 20 pitches in his first game action this spring.

Fossum had been limited to two bullpen sessions, throwing about 50 pitches each time. Entering Monday's outing, Fossum had already learned to trust his surgically repaired left arm.

"I think my arm status was out of my mind the first time I threw a side," Fossum told the St. Petersburg Times. "I haven't been really thinking about my arm, just how it's coming out of my hand, my pitches and how they're breaking and my location, which has been pretty good so far. When you get in that game, it steps it up another intensity level and it's the same when the season starts, so I just need to make sure my arm is responding."

Fossum believes he will be ready for the start of the regular season. However, manager Joe Maddon is remaining cautious and wants to give Fossum extra days off between starts.

"His work to this point has been great," Maddon said. "The biggest thing is that he would stay in a regular progression from here until April without any setbacks. The number of starts, whether it's five or six or something like that, doesn't matter. ... As long as he keeps meeting his schedule, I'm sure he'll be ready on time.

"We'll be a little bit cautious, but not overly. We just don't want any setbacks because the progress has been so good."

Pavano throwing 'free and easy': New York Yankees pitcher Carl Pavano has gone through a series of ups and downs since joining the team three years ago. But the right-hander left an impression on manager Joe Torre after his outing against the Boston Red Sox Monday.

"He looked like he was free and easy," Torre told Newsday, "and that's what I care about. I didn't really care about results. I just liked how he looked."

Pavano went three innings, allowing four hits, a walk and two earned runs and striking out two. Pavano faced many of the Boston regulars, including David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell, Julio Lugo and Coco Crisp.

"As far as a barometer, considering I hadn't pitched in eight days, I felt pretty good," Pavano said.

If Pavano can remain healthy, Torre believes he can be a key contributor to the team this year.

"We know what he's capable of doing," Torre said. "Results aren't important as long as he's healthy. As long as he's healthy, we know what he can do."

Zaun's found a home in Toronto: Catcher Gregg Zaun has been a nomad for much of his Major League career, playing for six different teams. But the switch-hitter has found a home north of the border in Toronto.

"I had chances early in my career, but injuries and immaturity didn't allow me to get to the place I wanted to be," Zaun told the Toronto Star. "They've [the Blue Jays] given me a home."

Now secure in Toronto, Zaun recently became the first pro baseball player to take up the cause of Right To Play. It is a sports charity started by speed skater Johan Olav Koss. The charity uses sport as a vehicle to reach children in some of the world's most desperate places.

Right To Play approached the Jays, who in turn suggested Zaun. This offseason, the group gave Zaun and his wife, Jamie, gave a presentation during a visit.

"I was welling up just watching the PSA [public service announcement]," Zaun remembered.

Zaun will donate $1,000 (Canadian) to Right To Play for each base runner he throws out this season. During the next offseason, he plans to travel in support of the charity.

"He's down to earth and very, very committed ... that's the sort of person we wanted," said Right To Play spokesperson Mark Brender.

Furcal comes back strong: Rafael Furcal missed two weeks of action this spring due to a sore shoulder but he came back strong, hitting a double in his return.

"I'm feeling so good," Furcal told the Los Angeles Times. "My throwing is coming back. Everything is fine. I don't feel behind at all."

The double came after he grounded out in his first two at-bats of Tuesday's game.

"The first two at-bats I saw the ball so good I tried to jump at it a little bit," Furcal said. "The next at-bat I said let me take it easy a little bit. Make good contact. And that's what I did."

Manager Grady Little was glad to see Furcal back in the lineup.

"The main thing about it was he felt good with all his swings," he said. "That's what our No. 1 concern is."

-- Red Line Editorial