Looper continues to thrive in move to starting rotation

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Cardinals pitcher threw 4 scoreless innings in a 3-1 victory over Atlanta.

JUPITER, Fla. -- Braden Looper's move from setup man to the St. Louis Cardinals' rotation appears to be succeeding.

Looper allowed four hits in 4 scoreless innings Monday, a 3-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves.

"I'm pretty happy right now," Looper said. "I've given up a few hits, but I'll take base hits like that. It's not like balls are flying out of the ballpark, knock on wood."

His only professional regular-season start was in rookie ball in 1997. Looper, who has 103 saves in 572 major league relief appearances, has allowed only one earned run in 11 innings over three spring training starts with only one walk.

"Today was probably the worst I've felt," he said. "It's pitching, I guess. I haven't done it a whole lot in my career, but it felt good to stretch it out."

Braves starter John Smoltz needed only 46 pitches to get through four innings and allowed one hit. He threw changeups past Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen for called third strikes to end the first inning -- Smoltz said he threw about 15 changeups.

"That's a pitch nobody saw me throw a lot," Smoltz said.

"Watch out, Glavine and Maddux," he added, referring to former teammates Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux.

Smoltz had taken a line drive off his chest in his prior start. Smoltz was down for several minutes after being struck by a line drive.

Smoltz lifted his shirt, displaying a large bruise that has yellowed. He said it felt like a "pulsating knot" before the game.

"It was fine once I got going," Smoltz said. "I didn't have one thought about it when I was on the mound."

Atlanta's Chipper Jones sprained his left ankle on a groundout to first in the first inning, limping off the field after taking only a few steps out of the batter's box. Jones said he was taken out of the game as a precaution.

"It bit me kind of hard, but there's not a lot of swelling," Jones said. "During the season I would have continued to play. Hopefully I'll get back in there tomorrow, because I need some at-bats."

Rick Ankiel, the former pitcher trying to make it back to the majors as an outfielder, homered off Tyler Yates in the sixth. It was the first homer for St. Louis in 10 games at home.

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