Cardinals 9, Braves 5

Saturday, March 17th 2007, 4:57 pm
By: News On 6

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) _ With two starts left in spring training, John Smoltz says he's not yet locked in as he continues to fine-tune his changeup.

He isn't worried, though.

``Today was not very good, but that's OK,'' Smoltz said after giving up three runs and six hits in five innings in a 9-5 loss to St. Louis on Saturday.

Smoltz, 39, said he made 2-horrendous pitches, including a slider that Scott Spiezio hit for a 4th-inning homer. But Smoltz seemed more focused on his struggles with his changeup, a pitch he plans to emphasize more this season.

``I didn't want to throw a lot of them, because I threw a lot of them last time,'' said Smoltz, Atlanta's projected opening-day starter.

Smoltz also worked on the changeup last spring but never felt confident enough in it to make it a big part of his game. He still went 16-9 last season with a 3.49 ERA and 211 strikeouts.

``The biggest thing for me is trying to learn when to use it and how to use it,'' Smoltz said. ``There's times I'm really confident and times I don't really know. I've got two starts to try to get locked in on how to use it. I'm certainly not going to get away from my fastball.''

Smoltz threw more breaking balls Saturday and appeared to be in top form physically.

``He was real good; it was coming out nice and easy,'' Braves manager Bobby Cox said.

Said Smoltz: ``All in all, I'm very happy again with extending myself. It's not like I was winded and couldn't have gone 2-more innings. ... I'm doing things on the mound I'm comfortable with. Nothing is forced.''

Spiezio drove in Albert Pujols with a 1st-inning single off Smoltz before hitting the 4th-inning homer.

Eli Marrero also had 2-hits for the Cardinals and broke a 5-5 tie with a run-scoring single in a 4-run 9th inning.

Craig Wilson, making his first appearance of the spring in left field, hit a 3-run homer for Atlanta.

Before Saturday's game, Cardinals starter Braden Looper was leading the Grapefruit League with a 0.82 ERA _ 1-run allowed in 10 innings in his first three starts. That average rose to 3.21 after he gave up 7-hits and 4-runs in 3-innings.

St. Louis manager Tony La Russa praised Looper's effort.

``He threw 65 pitches and the wind was blowing again,'' La Russa said. ``You see some of the box scores and you see 65 pitches and it's 10 runs.''

One day after playing to a 6-6 tie through 10 innings, the Braves and Cardinals were tied 5-5 through eight.

Atlanta's fourth pitcher, Jonathan Johnson, gave up 4-runs in the 9th. Aaron Miles walked, moved to 2nd on Miguel Negron's bloop single, and scored on Marrero's single. Ryan Ludwick's single to left drove in Negron, and Edgar Gonzalez added a 2-run single to knock Johnson out of the game.

Johnson, 32, is attempting a comeback after leaving the game in 2003. The 1995 first-round pick by Texas joined the AAA Richmond Braves last summer but now has a 9.39 ERA this spring.